HEAT 106 - Pistons 92 Recap

The obvious danger entering Friday’s contest with the Detroit Pistons was looking ahead to Sunday’s showdown with the Boston Celtics. A well-worn storyline to be sure, but one that nicks NBA teams with regularity.

But it may have been too obvious, because in winning a 106-92 game that was all but decided by halftime, the HEAT – now with a half-game lead in the Eastern Conference flipped the script in more ways than one.

“Our guys have done a very good job of staying in the moment,” Erik Spoelstra said. “It’s very easy to let your mind drift. Instead we focused in and improved.”

During their now eight-game winning streak, the trend was that the HEAT struggled defensively in first quarters. The problems were almost always fixed by the game’s final period, but Spoelstra would just as soon have nothing to fix at all.

So, in a game that most people would have shrugged their shoulders at were the HEAT to continue allowing easy baskets early on, Miami played its most complete first half of the streak. The defense relegated Detroit’s offense to perimeter passing and jumpers while the offense hummed along with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James leading the way in showing the drastic growth in the HEAT over the past two months.

“It shows that we have been playing good basketball and we are starting to get better as a team,” Dwyane Wade said. “We continue to have growth as the season goes on and it is a good testament to our team.”

Eighteen of the HEAT’s first 20 points came around the rim, and when things stopped being so easy they fell back on wonderful offensive movement, eventually putting up 39 points in the second quarter and 30 fast-break points overall.

These are points worth lingering on, even if they came in a game that will soon be forgotten. When Detroit’s defense was fortunate enough to have time to set up, the HEAT constantly laid on the pressure with incredible variety and – here’s that word again – trust.

“The more dangerous we are is when we get more balance,” Spoelstra said.

Six players scored in double-digits for Miami and all nine players who saw action when the game was still in question dished at least one assist. And no player was as exemplary of that balance than Wade.

His 24 points on 15 shots, eight rebounds and seven assists look good on paper, but most of Wade’s work came in transition or without the ball. If Chris Bosh was posting up on the block and Wade was in the corner, Wade would cut through the middle of the paint, make the catch and curl in for a finish or a foul. If LeBron James had dribbled past the first level of defense from the wing, Wade sliced down the center to again challenge at the rim.

And every time Wade did so, a teammate would fill his now-vacant spot on the perimeter, ready for the kick-out pass. A pass that, with 29 assists on 38 field goals, was readily made.

Simply put, there were moments of basketball harmony. They may have come against the 25th team in defensive efficiency, but the HEAT would be well-equipped with Friday’s arsenal against any team.

“For the most part I think our activity was good,” Spoelstra said. “With our half-court execution again, we took some strides forward.

“We wanted to continue to improve and find another level.”

Though it may not be the level Spoelstra was speaking of, the HEAT now sit atop the Eastern Conference standings, and its no surprise that the team that didn’t settle for just-enough Friday has not forgotten how far they’ve come since they last played Boston.

“We are totally different team the first two games and those guys were just too much for us, overwhelming defensively, but we have come a long way and we just need to show what we have been doing lately and take it to that game on Sunday,” LeBron James said.