Detroit Pistons at Miami HEAT Game Preview

Photo Credit: Issac Baldizon

The Miami HEAT host the Detroit Pistons Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Get your tickets now! The HEAT fell to the Pistons 111-107 in their last meeting on Feb. 3. Tip-off is set for 7:30 PM. Television coverage on FOX Sports Sun begins at 7:00 PM. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: What’s the most important thing for Miami to clean up from their loss to the Lakers?

Couper Moorhead: Their transition defense. The Lakers are one of the best teams at hitting the ball ahead on the break, and as such get plenty of baskets in transition, but allowing 22 fast-break points, to any team, is always going to put a HEAT team that relies heavily on its defense in a bad position. Erik Spoelstra has often mentioned the team’s ‘roadmap’ to winning this season, which involves both defending and playing as a team offensively – and nowhere on that roadmap, anywhere, is going to be allowing easy points in transition. The HEAT might not have won on Thursday just by slowing the Lakers down, but the entire complexion of the game would have been different had the HEAT not been scrambling to react for much of the first half. Clean that up and it’s much easier to contend with the tough shots the Lakers were making later on, even if there were some half-court miscommunications the HEAT will look at on the defensive end.

Joe Beguiristain: Without question, it’s the defense.

After practice on Friday, all the chatter from the team was about correcting their mistakes on that end, learning from it and moving forward to Detroit. Based on what everyone was saying, it seems as though a good portion of the practice session was dedicated to film, which is just as important as on-court work after tough games like Thursday.

As Coup mentioned above, the Lakers simply got too many easy buckets in transition and were able to maintain a stranglehold on the game thanks to that. Although Dwyane Wade did all he could with 25 points off the bench, Los Angeles just kept answering with a barrage from downtown.

On the bright side, the HEAT understand just how important Saturday night’s game is in terms of the standings. We’ll see how the team responds. 

Blake Griffin2: Though Detroit leads the season series 2-1, we only have one game of evidence against them since the Blake Griffin trade – what did we learn from that game?

Couper: Blake Griffin had barely been with the team a week when Miami visited and it was cleared based on what Detroit was running. Griffin wound up with a usage rate of 30 percent – around what most primary options are going to be – but many of his possessions were raw post-ups and isolations, play types the HEAT were well equipped to combat with Justise Winslow, Bam Adebayo and James Johnson (Hassan Whiteside did not play). Presumably the Pistons will have had time to implement more complicated sets for him in the time since and Griffin won’t be playing one-on-one as much.

That said about the first meeting, the Pistons still scored 120.1 points per 100 possessions with Griffin on the floor in part because Andre Drummond played an exceptional all-around game and in larger part because Ish Smith had a career night shooting 11-of-14, including a game-clinching three in the final minute. Not having Whiteside available removed some rim protection from Miami’s rotation but Smith was using his lightning speed to get into the paint all night. It won’t be surprising if the HEAT opt to trap him some, forcing him to give the ball up before he can get going downhill.

It’s also worth noting that Detroit was without rookie Luke Kennard in this game. That might not seem like a huge absence, but given that they traded Avery Bradley and Tobias Harris to the Clippers the wing rotation was a little short without Kennard. Since then, Detroit also added former HEAT player James Ennis at the trade deadline. 

Joe: We learned (or continued to see) just how dangerous Blake Griffin is as a playmaker. Even though Griffin was still getting used to his teammates, he made some key passes down the stretch to help the Pistons come away with the victory. In fact, Griffin accounted for Detroit’s final eight points of the game in some way, shape or form.

All that said, Miami actually did a commendable job of making him take tough shots for the most part and held the former Clipper to just 6-of-19 shooting. As you’d imagine, it took a collective effort from James Johnson, Bam Adebayo and even Josh Richardson on a couple possessions in the fourth.

While it ultimately wasn’t enough, the HEAT need to bring that kind of whatever-it-takes attitude once again if they want to come out ahead this time around.

3: With major playoff implications Saturday night, what aspect of Detroit’s offense is most important to neutralize?

Couper: If Miami loses, the Pistons will be just two games back of the No. 8 seed and will possess the season tiebreaker. In other words this game counts as two games for playoff purposes, which is a good time to remind you that Miami missed the playoffs last year largely due to losing out on the tiebreaker with the Chicago Bulls. These games matter.

Despite Smith’s success last time out, some of the dribble jumpers he made are shots the HEAT are going to live with. Same with some of Griffin’s isolations. If he beats you on those, fine, at least you aren’t sending a second defender and giving up open threes. It’s the dumpoff and lob passes to Drummond that will sink your defense over the course of an entire game if you don’t cut those off – passes Whiteside has improved at defending in recent years. Drummond is a load on the glass and will get some of his offensive boards just as a great scorer will get their own shots, but it’s the shots others create for Drummond that you have to slow or stop with activity and physicality.

Joe: Like Miami, Detroit is ranked in the top 10 in drives, handoffs and fake handoffs per 100 possessions. What’s more, the Pistons lead the league in off-ball screens per 100 by a wide margin.

As you can see, the Pistons are quite good at putting the defense in a disadvantageous position. While that hasn’t necessarily equated to wins recently, things should get better as Griffin gets more comfortable with his new teammates.

Above all else, I think the HEAT should zero-in on the 28-year-old and play him one-on-one so he can’t distribute the wealth. If the HEAT can force him into tough looks like in that last matchup and also keep Detroit’s supporting cast at bay, all should be fine.

INJURY UPDATE: Bam Adebayo (personal reasons), Wayne Ellington (left thigh contusion) & Tyler Johnson (left thigh contusion) have all been ruled out.

Pistons at HEAT Head to Head


Feb. 3 – HEAT at Pistons

Jan. 3 – Pistons at HEAT

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have won two of three and enter the contest at 32-30.
  • The Pistons have dropped seven of nine and are 29-33.
  • Josh Richardson is the only player on Miami who has started all 62 games.
  • Blake Griffin leads Detroit in scoring at 17.8 points per game.


Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 103.5 (24)
  • HEAT Defense: 104.4 (10)
  • Pistons Offense: 104.4 (20)
  • Pistons Defense: 105.5 (12)

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