Finally, an easy one.
After a six-week stretch of nail biting (and often times frustrating) finishes, the Miami Heat built a 31-point cushion against the Memphis Grizzlies Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena and held onto it for a 115-89 victory.
Led by Tyler Johnson’s 23 points (his first 20-point game of 2018) and a season-high 17 points from Justise Winslow, the Heat put an end to its three-game losing skid and extended its lead over the Detroit Pistons to two games for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with 22 regular season games to go.
Miami (31-29) hosts seventh-seeded Philadelphia (32-25) next on Tuesday before closing out a five-game homestand against the Lakers, Pistons and Suns.
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The Heat, which enjoyed its biggest blowout victory of the season prior to Saturday against the Grizzlies back on Dec. 11 winning by 25 points, came in having played a franchise-record 17 consecutive games decided by single digits – tied for the second-longest streak in NBA history and three off the league record set by the Indiana Pacers back in 1983.
There were plenty of frustrating moments to go around during that 17-game stretch with the Heat losing 12 of them including each of the last three games by three points or less.
The Grizzlies, who like the Heat were playing on the second night of a back-to-back having lost at home to Cleveland on Friday by 23 points, waved the white flag early. Memphis played without leading scorers Tyreke Evans (ribs) and Marc Gasol (rest) and its two highest paid players in Mike Conley (heel) and Chandler Parsons (illness).
But it still didn’t stop the Grizzlies (18-40) from getting off to a good start. Memphis made 9 of its first 13 shots and led 26-25 up until the Heat’s second unit got on the floor with 2:57 left in the opening quarter and closed the period on a 9-5 run.
Miami never trailed again. The Heat led 60-52 at the half and then extended that lead to 92-70 after three quarters.
Johnson, who hadn’t broken the 20-point mark since he poured in a season-high 31 points in a win at Orlando Dec. 30, had 11 first quarter points and another nine in the third quarter. He was 6 of 12 from the field and 6 of 12 from the field.
Winslow, who posted his eighth double-digit scoring game of the season, was 7 of 12 from the field and had six rebounds and two assists. Winslow came in shooting 25 percent (13 of 52) in eight games in the month of February.
Prior to the game, the Heat, playing its first home game since Feb. 9, honored the memory of the 17 lives lost in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland on Valentine’s Day.
Players and coaches for both teams met at midcourt and held a large flag with Douglas’ school logo before a tribute video played on the large screens inside the arena. Before a moment of silence was held, Douglas student Alex Wind, a member of the school’s Drama club, sang the national anthem.
Dwyane Wade then grabbed the mic and told the crowd: “Tonight we honor the 17 lives that were tragically lost in Parkland. We applaud the fearless students that are fighting for their lives. We also make sure that their voices are heard around gun safety. You are our nation’s inspiration. We salute you and we support you.”