Five takeaways from the Heat’s 105-96 victory over the Pistons Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena
1. The cushion over Detroit (29-34) is four games with 19 games to go for Miami (33-30). The Heat hasn’t clinched a playoff spot yet and will likely keep us on our toes up until the very of the season, but Saturday’s win went a long way in putting Miami in great position to get back into the playoffs after missing them on a tiebreaker a season ago.
“It was important, coming off the last game, just to get this,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We dropped two important ones at Detroit, so this one was paramount. Now, those were nip-and-tuck games all the way down to the last possessions. We had fourth-quarter leads in both those games, we weren't able to hold on. And both teams knew what this game was about. Competitors want these kind of games.”
Detroit, playing on the second night of a back-to-back and for the fifth time in seven games Saturday, still has a tough schedule in front of them including nine games against teams in the playoff hunt: at Cavs (Monday), vs. Raptors (Wednesday), at Jazz (March 13), at Nuggets (March 15), at Blazers (March 17), at Rockets (March 22), vs. Wizards (March 29), vs. Sixers (April 4), vs. Raptors (April 9).
The Heat has 10 games left against teams in the playoff hunt: at Wizards (Tuesday), vs. Sixers (Thursday), vs. Wizards (March 10), at Blazers (12), vs. Nuggets (March 19), at Thunder (March 23), at Pacers (March 25), vs. Cavs (March 27), vs. Thunder (April 9), vs. Raptors (April 11).
“The win was the biggest win we can get right now,” James Johnson said. “Playoff atmosphere, two teams that might be facing each other. We didn’t want to leave no doubt. This was a big game for us and we all knew that. They knew that. We stepped up. We prevailed.”
2. The Heat got back to playing good defense. Thursday’s loss to the Lakers was historically bad and another example of how this Heat team struggles against opponents who play at a fast pace (Miami is 7-11 against teams ranked in the top eight in pace).
The Pistons are not that kind of a team, ranking 21st in the league in pace.
Outside of Blake Griffin’s 31 points and six assists and Andre Drummond’s 22 points and 18 rebounds, Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy didn’t get much else in the way of offense from his other guys as Reggie Bullock (11 points, 4 of 14 shooting), James Ennis (7 points, 3 of 9 shooting) and Ish Smith (4 points, 2 of 7 shooting) struggled all night.
Detroit shot 41.6 percent from the field and 7 of 24 from three-point range and had only nine fastbreak points. Detroit also turned it over 19 times, which led directly to 26 points for Miami.
“I thought our guys fought really hard,” Van Gundy said. “That third quarter they came back and fought. We had it to four. We played Blake into exhaustion in the third and we sat him down. We just struggled playing without him. He was dominant and every time he was out we struggled. Their defense was really good. We handled the ball very poorly. Turnovers were a big part of it. Our lack of being able to shoot the ball on the perimeter is becoming a problem. Too many offensive rebounds for them. To me those were the big three problems of the game.”
3. It was a nice bounce-back game for Kelly Olynyk. After being held scoreless on five missed shots and only 13 minutes of work because he was too slow to be on the floor against the young, athletic Lakers, Olynyk came off the bench Saturday when the Heat badly needed a lift and provided it.
Detroit got out to a 14-5 lead and Hassan Whiteside drew his second foul. The Heat quickly went on a 19-4 run and eventually stretched its lead to as many as 18 points in the first half mostly because Olynyk held his own against Drummond in the paint. Olynyk finished with a team-leading 17 points along with Josh Richardson and also had five rebounds, four assists and a steal. He finished plus 18 for the game.
“With every game, you’re going to get better and better,” said Olynyk, who was playing in his third game after missing three weeks with a strained left shoulder. “You’re just kind of feeling your way back into it. Obviously after being out for a few weeks, you’re not going to come back and just instantly turn the switch back on. [I’m] just trying to get back into it as much as [I] can and keep developing. Obviously now that the second unit is different with Dwyane, we’re just trying to kind of find our rhythm with him and everything that he does. But I think it’s good. We’re getting into it and it’s trending up.”
4. Whiteside had a rough night shooting (2 of 10 from the field), but delivered 19 rebounds and a much-needed three-point play late in the game as the Pistons were trying to rally.
Whiteside’s final statline Saturday included only eight points, an assist and a block in 25 minutes, but he delivered a huge play when the Heat needed it. With 5:43 to go, Wade missed a pair of free throws, but Whiteside beat Drummond for the rebound, scored and drew the foul. It turned what was a 94-87 lead back to 97-87 and stole some of Detroit’s momentum.
“That was demoralizing,” Van Gundy said. “Especially because a big part of our timeout was that we have to do a better job blocking out. That’s inexcusable on the free throw line. Andre feels like crap about it now. He knows that’s inexcusable.”
Whiteside’s 19 rebounds were the most in a game for him since he had 21 Nov. 15 in a loss to Washington.
“I mean, it’s incredible. I mean, you have two of the best rebounders in the game playing out there tonight,” Spoelstra said. “He was battling through all of that. He didn’t get a great rhythm. He missed some chippies in the fourth quarter. But he was getting to the rim. He was pursuing with multiple effort and then he ended up getting the biggest block of the game probably, when they were right at the rim and that could have brought them a little closer.”
5. The Heat is now 19-13 when it makes at least a dozen three-pointers. Miami finished 12 of 29 from beyond the arc (41.4 percent) and got some big threes from Luke Babbitt (three), who was in the starting lineup alongside James Johnson on Saturday.
“There aren't many guys in the league that are stable enough mentally that they can handle that type of responsibility, where you are essentially a spot starter to allow other guys to be able to play and be who they are,” Spoelstra said of Babbitt, who played 25 minutes after combining to play 26 minutes total in his five previous games including not playing at all against the Sixers on Tuesday.
“And then be able to adapt and have the flexibility to play a different role, which sometimes you don't play for a week or two weeks, and not to get down about it, but just to stay prepared. He works so diligently on his shooting and staying in shape. He's probably on the treadmill. So that whenever his number is called, he's not going to misstep that opportunity. He’s ready for it and he played well tonight. Without him, I do’'t know, with that many guys out, if we would have felt a sense of familiarity, even though we had to change the starting lineup again.”
The Heat has now had 20 different starting lineups this season.