Detroit Pistons Bad Boys Preach 'Art of War' to 2014 Miami Heat

Ethan SkolnickNBA Senior WriterMarch 29, 2014

USA Today

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — One after another, they fell to the floor. With force.

Michael Jordan.

Larry Bird.

Kevin McHale.

Scottie Pippen.

Jordan. Again. And again. And again.

This was the video the Detroit Pistons chose to rouse the crowd for Friday's halftime ceremony honoring the 25th anniversary of the 1989 championship, a ceremony they called "Bad Boys Unite," with all but Dennis Rodman (attending to a commitment in Argentina) on hand. The video was the only appropriate tribute to the biggest bullies on a bygone NBA block, back in a time when beating opponents on the scoreboard was not sufficient, not without beating them up as well.

There's no team today nearly as pugnacious as those Pistons—especially not the current patsy Pistons, who were in the process of being pummeled, 110-78, by a Miami Heat squad missing Dwyane Wade (hamstring), Mario Chalmers (quad), Greg Oden (back) and Ray Allen (illness), but led by LeBron James' 30-minute triple-double.

But prior to arriving in Michigan, the Heat had tussled with, and lost to, the Pacers, a team that tries to emulate some of those 20th-century tactics. And Miami players had been exasperated again by the experience, losing their cool during and then after the game, angry about what they considered cheap shots and blown calls. It made you wonder how the Heat would have approached those Pistons.

AUBURN HILLS, MI - MARCH 28: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat drives to the basket against the Detroit Pistons on March 28, 2014 at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downlo
Allen Einstein/Getty Images

James was just four years old then, too busy "watching Thundercats" to care about the Bad Boys. But he saw enough highlights to know this:

"Different era," he said.

How would it go?

"It would be a very, very physical game," James said. "It all depends what type of style they let us play. We play '89 style of basketball, then there would be some fights and there would be a lot of things happening. If we played 2014 kind of basketball, they wouldn't be able to play their game."

Or, as Wade put it: "They'll win going by their rules. If we're going by our rules, we'll win."

So how should they go about handling a hybrid, an old-school squad in a new-age era, one intent on, and often successful in, goading Miami out of its high-flying game?

Well, who better to ask than those Bad Boys, during media room interviews as the third quarter went on without them?

But first, Rick Mahorn had a request.

More like an order, actually.

"Ask Isiah (Thomas) this question," the former power forward said, peering over at the Pistons' Hall of Fame point guard, holding court a few feet away. "When I was playing with Washington, Isiah slapped me, made the layup, the referee called a foul on me. Ask him. That's a magician. That's the one. Slapped me with one hand, made the layup with the other hand, foul on (No.) 44. Ask him. Ask him. That's the Kung Fu Master."

That last sentence was a reference to what James called himself late Wednesday night, as his exasperated explanation for how he could get called for a flagrant foul when rising against—and elbowing—Roy Hibbert. James claimed it was impossible for that action to be intentional.

NEW YORK - 1991:  Isiah Thomas #11 of the Detroit Pistons shoots a layup against Patrick Ewing #33 of the New York Knicks during a game in 1991 at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges that, by downloading
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

What about Thomas?

Well, he didn't deny what he tried to do to Mahorn, when they played against each other.

"He had set a hard pick on me," Thomas said. "And I came to the basket, and I showed it with my right hand. And I slapped him with my left hand.

"You know, if you get hit, you hit back."

That's the way those Pistons played.

So, is that it? Is that what the Heat need to do?

Maybe, but there's more than one way to go about that.

Thomas doesn't believe physical retaliation is the only way to show strength.

In fact, he attributes the Pistons' success during that era more to their minds.

"We were a mentally tough team," Thomas said. "And we were a physical team, but we were no more physical than any other team in the league at that time. I think our mental toughness was a lot stronger and our concentration was a lot better than other teams that tried to play that style."

PHILADELPHIA - CIRCA 1991: Bill Laimbeer #40 of the Detroit Pistons boxes out against Charles Barkley #32 of the Philadelphia 76ers circa 1991 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by dow
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

Bill Laimbeer, their great instigator, said the same, touting "our mental discipline and determination. We took some brutal losses, and still persevered and overcame."

The Heat have certainly shown, over the past two postseasons, that they do possess that attribute.

That translates to any era, even one in which, according to Mahorn, the game may be "a little softer," since "they changed the rules once the Bad Boys won a couple of championships." And Laimbeer doesn't think the Heat stars should be mistaken for meek.

"I watched that game," the former center said of Heat-Pacers. "I think (James) dished it out just as much as he got it, or even more so. So there's still a place to be physical and to be nasty. Just, you take it and you move on. Don't whine about it. All games are physical and they are all mental. The NBA is no exception. It's a very physical game. It's just a matter of how physical the officials allow you to play."

The games extend past the buzzer too.

Mahorn thought James and the Heat played some in the losing Bankers Life Fieldhouse locker room, and he didn't blame them.

"My advice is to just keep playing, don't get into it," Mahorn said, somewhat surprisingly considering his rugged reputation. "But (James) also planted a seed for the next game. Because when the referees (hear) that, they try to change and see what's going on. But the whole game is playoff-driven, because when the playoffs start, it's a whole different animal. Coaches plant seeds, my team is not getting enough calls. It's all about planting seeds for how to position themselves next time."

It's also—according to Pat Riley—about planting your feet, making a stand.

"It's the Art of War," Mahorn continued.

The Bad Boys' battles are long behind, and Friday they spoke of coming out better for their bruises.

The Heat's go on.

They'll get hit.

And—with their minds as much as their bodies—they must keep hitting back.