Ethan J. Skolnick

Miami Heat knock off Detroit Pistons with playoff seedings still in flux

Miami’ Goran Dragic holds off Detroit’s Steve Blake as he looks to pass the ball in the first half Tuesday.
Miami’ Goran Dragic holds off Detroit’s Steve Blake as he looks to pass the ball in the first half Tuesday. AP

Perfect.

That’s how Dwyane Wade characterized Joe Johnson after the latter’s acquisition.

Perfect for this team, at that time.

“He’s a smart player,” Wade said then. “You come here, you see how our offense is, that there are guys on this team that have scored in the 20s, but the mentality is for it to be an even kind of offense. Once you see that, you know some nights it’s going to be your night, and some nights it’s going to be someone else’s.”

Late Tuesday, after the Heat played a most imperfect game, but managed to beat the Detroit Pistons, 99-93, Wade was reminded of those earlier sentiments.

He smiled.

“I’m glad this was one of his nights,” Wade said.

That’s because this wasn’t just any night. It was a night the Heat needed, to inch up the Eastern Conference standings, to ensure that Wednesday’s season finale in Boston would be an opportunity to secure the No. 3 seed. It was a night that Miami often got stuck in the grime, playing a Pistons team that was without its leading scorer (point guard Reggie Jackson) but not without absent motivation, trying to avoid an eighth seed and a first round matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It was a night on which the Heat committed 11 first half turnovers, and 21 fouls in total, with Hassan Whiteside struggling to keep Andre Drummond off the boards and Goran Dragic struggling to stay on the court, somehow the one caught up in foul trouble even as he was losing a tooth to an elbow without penalty.

“We worked hard tonight,” Dragic said. “It was not smooth, everybody knows that. But it’s a win we needed. Detroit is a playoff team, it is not easy to beat them at home. But we did it.”

It wasn’t clear if they would, not on a night in which Wade’s play was uneven, and the score was even 19 different times, including with 10:23 left, with the Heat leading by just one when Johnson replaced Wade with 6:14 remaining.

This was Johnson’s night from that point forward. The 15-year veteran scored 15 of his 25 points in a five-minute spree, starting with a 27-footer just before the shot clock expired.

Erik Spoelstra didn’t tell Johnson to do anything; he didn’t need to. He just kept running actions for the seven-time All-Star.

“I was just being aggressive, man,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t me just stepping up trying to give us that oompf. But I was taking what the defense gave me. I was running pick-and-rolls and the big was off, so we were trying to put them in a tough spot. I was able to get a couple of floaters in the lane, a couple of jump shots went, and we just fed off that.”

They all did, even if it might have hurt Dragic (16 points in 26 minutes) to chew.

“We’re 2-0 when I lose a tooth,” he said, with a gap-toothed smile, having lost the same replacement tooth as in Atlanta earlier this season.

He won’t fix it yet.

There’s no time, not with a flight to Massachusetts, and then a game Wednesday night to close the regular season.

“Everything is in our hands,” Dragic said. “If we win the game, we’re the third seed.”

Dragic is accurate, of course; he’s been carefully following schedules and scenarios for weeks. If the Heat loses, it still can be third, if Atlanta loses in Washington. But the Heat also can fall to fifth or even sixth, due to a number of convoluted scenarios. And it could still play either Boston, Atlanta or Charlotte in the first round.

But the win in Detroit increased the chances of making this easy. Of making up for everything that happened to this team this season. An hour prior to Tuesday’s tipoff, as Dragic and Amare Stoudemire were reviewing the ramifications of the final two regular season games, they revealed some regrets.

“That Lakers game,” Dragic said, shaking his head.

“Yeah,” Stoudemire said.

That Lakers game. That Nets game. That Knicks game. That Timberwolves game. That Magic game.

Yet none of those squandered games matter now.

They are all just rough water under the bridge to the postseason, to the third seed.

That bridge is in Boston.

Perhaps, once again, it will be the perfect time to ride Joe Johnson.

Wednesday: Heat at Celtics

When/where: 8 p.m. TD Garden

TV/radio: ESPN, Fox Sports Sun; WAXY 790, WAQI 710 Spanish.

Series: Celtics lead 64-44

Scouting report: It’s come to this — a game to determine seeding in the East. Boston has beaten the Heat both times this season, so it holds the tiebreaker. But the last meeting came just prior to Joe Johnson joining Miami. Justise Winslow (ankle) is a game-time decision. Isaiah Thomas, the Celtics’ leading scorer, shot poorly in the last matchup with the Heat, but Avery Bradley typically gives Miami trouble.

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