Detroit Pistons at Miami HEAT Game Preview

Dion Waiters
Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon

The Miami HEAT host the Detroit Pistons Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: What prevented the HEAT from earning a late victory in Philadelphia?

Couper Moorhead: In the end, the 76ers just made a few more plays down the stretch. The entire final period was a bit of a chess match between Erik Spoelstra and Brett Brown, with a Kelly Olynyk at center lineup spurring a Miami run when Philadelphia went small, then the 76ers making a run staying small but bringing their starters back in, then Miami bringing in starters and taking the lead when the 76ers lacked interior defense and the 76ers finally getting the final burst with Boban Marjanović back on the floor as another counter. Even with Joel Embiid out the 76ers managed to force the HEAT into a handful of uncomfortable scoring possessions, and even though the points still came in bunches a few of those tough shots didn’t fall in the final minutes and the home team scored off those misses.

That’s just the nature of such tightly contested games. It was a very similar night to the one in Portland a few weeks ago when Miami held off a furious Blazers run. This time it went the other way and the HEAT are now 15-17 in games that are within five points in the final five minutes. How that specific record swings, considering the tough schedule of the rest of the season, will likely determine the outcome of Miami’s playoff hopes.

Joe Beguiristain: Although the HEAT threw everything they could at one of the top teams in the East, they ultimately fell a little short. And on a night where Dwyane Wade kept up his sharp play, Kelly Olynyk did whatever he wanted, Dion Waiters got to the bucket at will and Justise Winslow emptied the tank on both ends, it was a tough loss to take. Then again, sometimes you just have to live with the results when you’re playing a topflight team on the road.

In particular, Wade did all he could late and came through with some tough buckets and superb passes down the stretch, but JJ Redick had the last laugh with a clutch three to put Philadelphia up 103-99 with 1:04 left.

But at the end of the day, Miami displayed a gritty performance in a raucous environment. And even though it resulted in a loss, the margin for error is very slim in games decided in the final seconds.

Reggie Jackson2: How has Detroit been playing over the past few weeks and how might any changes to the roster affect this matchup?

Couper: First, the roster changes. Detroit sent possibly their best shooter in Reggie Bullock to the Lakers, which in part thinned out their wing depth – which was already fairly shallow – but did clear up a starting spot for promising young shooter Luke Kennard. Then the Pistons acquired Thon Maker from the Milwaukee Bucks which balances out their frontcourt behind Andre Drummond giving Detroit, along with Zaza Pachulia, players with different skillsets to mix and match given the opponent. Pachulia had struggled to defend Miami’s athletic bench lineups with Bam Adebayo, so Maker might get a big opportunity Saturday night.

And, of course, the Pistons signed Wayne Ellington when he became a free agent following his trade to Phoenix before the deadline. Ellington gives Detroit exactly the sort of high-volume shooter they’ve needed for a couple years, even when they had Bullock, and eases the burden on Blake Griffin by spacing the floor as well as anyone.

Detroit is a bit more versatile now, with more offensive explosiveness, but the real change that has helped them win six of eight is the play of Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond. Neither had a particularly strong first half of the season by their standards, but have really picked things up of late and in those last eight games they lead the team in Net Rating at +19 points per 100 possessions each. If those two are playing to their potential, with a lighter Detroit schedule upcoming, the Pistons are a team poised for a strong finish.

Joe: The Pistons have played much better of late, winning six of their last eight and posting the sixth-best net rating over that timeframe at plus-6.6. And of course, Blake Griffin has been a big reason why.

How so?

Well, the soon-to-be 30-year-old is averaging 24.8 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists on 47.2 percent shooting during that span. Keep in mind that those averages include his 15-point performance against the Hawks on Friday in which his night got cut short due to an ejection in the third quarter.

It hasn’t been all him, though, as both Reggie Jackson (who dropped a season-high 32 points versus Atlanta) and Andre Drummond (who recorded his tenth 20-20 game of the season in that same matchup with the Hawks) have been quite good as well. All told, the three-man lineup of Griffin, Jackson and Drummond has outscored the opposition by 25.1 points per 100 possessions over the past eight games. 25.1!

That’s wild.

In terms of Detroit’s new additions, former HEAT swingman Wayne Ellington has received the most playing time. And thus far in his three games as a Piston, Ellington is averaging just 8.0 points on 30 percent shooting.

While those numbers are modest, we’ve seen just how dangerous the 31-year-old sharpshooter can be firsthand. Perhaps more importantly, he also knows the intricacies of Miami’s defensive system. It’s obviously easier said than done, but the HEAT have to run Ellington off the three-point line no matter what.

3: Just how important is this game?

Couper: While just about every game is important from this point forward with the HEAT sitting No. 9 in the East, games against Detroit, Charlotte, Brooklyn, Orlando and Washington are the ones that could ultimately decide the final seedings in April. If Miami loses then the best they can do is split the season series with Detroit and could also find themselves as much as a full two games back of the Pistons in the loss column. It’s not a win or go home situation, but Miami will probably need to go at least 4-4, if not better, in the eight games remaining against those five opponents down the stretch – because even if you’re a couple games back, having those games on the slate allows you to still control your own destiny. If you don’t take advantage, you’re at the mercy of how other teams perform.

Joe: With both of these teams so close to each other in the standings and only one more matchup remaining between the two, this game definitely holds some weight.

As it stands right now, Detroit holds the final playoff spot in the East at 27-30. Miami, on the other hand, is a full game back at 26-31. So, if the Pistons come out ahead, the HEAT will lose a decent amount of ground.

Having said all that, it’s still late February. More likely than not, these two teams will leapfrog each other a few times throughout the month of March and probably into April. And like we’ve said a few times already in this space, it’ll be a crazy race to the finish.

INJURY UPDATE: James Johnson (Slight Left AC Sprain) and Justise Winslow (Left Knee Soreness) are out. Goran Dragić (Right Knee Surgery) is probable, while Yante Maten (Sioux Falls Assignment) remains out.

Pistons at HEAT Head To Head

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT and Pistons have split the season series thus far at one game apiece.
  • Miami is 26-31, while Detroit enters the contest at 27-30.
  • The HEAT haven’t posted a losing record after the All-Star Break in a decade.
  • Blake Griffin leads the Pistons in points (26.1) and assists (5.3) per game.

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 105.9 (25)
  • HEAT Defense: 106.6 (6)
  • Pistons Offense: 106.7 (22)
  • Pistons Defense: 108.3 (12)

For live in-game updates of Saturday night’s contest, follow @MiamiHEAT, @CoupNBA and @JoeBeguiristain on Twitter.

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