The Miami Heat had one of the roughest road schedules in the league before the All-Star break.
Saturday night, the Heat took advantage of a team going through one of those stretches themselves, beating the wary Detroit Pistons 105-96 at AmericanAirlines Arena in a pivotal showdown in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Despite 31 points and six assists from Blake Griffin and 22 points and 18 rebounds from All-Star center Andre Drummond, the Pistons, playing on the second night of a back-to-back and for the fifth time in seven days, shot 41.6 percent and turned it over 18 times (it led to 26 points for Miami).
That was a much better defensive effort for the Heat two days after the well-rested Lakers shot 59.5 percent and crushed Miami 131-113 on this same floor.
With the win, the Heat (33-30) stretched its lead to four games over Detroit (29-34) for the final playoff spot in the East and evened the season series at 2. Had the Pistons won, Detroit would have owned the head-to-head tiebreaker and pulled to within two games of Miami. Instead, the Heat is now only a half game behind the Milwaukee Bucks (33-29) for seventh place in the East.
Josh Richardson and Kelly Olynyk led the Heat with 17 points each. James Johnson, inserted back into the Heat’s starting lineup, had 14 points and Goran Dragic and Justise Winslow each finished with 13 points. Dwyane Wade had 11 points on 3 of 9 shooting.
Center Hassan Whiteside had a rough night shooting (2 of 10), but had 19 rebounds and scored three of his eight points on an offensive rebound and putback with 5:43 to play.
The way the game started – with the Pistons making five of their first six shots, building a 14-5 lead and drawing foul No. 2 on Whiteside with 8:31 left in the opening quarter – it looked like Miami could be headed for another rough night defensively.
But Olynyk, who was held scoreless in Thursday’s game, replaced Whiteside after he picked up his second foul and keyed a 19-4 Heat run in the opening quarter. Miami then opened the second quarter on a 11-0 run and led by as many as 18 points before taking a 59-46 lead into the break. Miami never trailed again and the closest the Pistons came to catching them in the fourth quarter was 88-83 with 7:30 to play.
The Heat played Saturday’s game without three key rotation players as guards Wayne Ellington and Tyler Johnson sat out for the second game in a row with bruised left quads and rookie Bam Adebayo left the team to be with his family after the passing of his great grandmother.