MIAMI (AP) — Inside the Detroit locker room, there were answers to the question that has befuddled the NBA for nearly two months now.
How, exactly, would a team beat the Miami Heat?
After Friday night, the Pistons’ general response was something along the lines of ”Good luck.”
LeBron James scored 29 points, Dwyane Wade added 19 and the Heat extended their winning streak to 25 games by pulling away in the second half and beating the Pistons 103-89.
”They’re one of the greatest teams,” Pistons guard Will Bynum said, ”that I’ve ever played against.”
Miami trailed by as much as 11 in the first half before moving within eight of tying the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers for the longest winning streak in NBA history. The Heat also won at home for the 16th straight time.
”We don’t get caught up in things like that, saying that we’re untouchable,” said James, who also finished with eight assists and eight rebounds. ”We know we can be beat by anybody, any night, if we don’t come in with the mindset to play our game.”
Maybe they don’t always come in with that mindset in perfect order, but the Heat clearly find a way to get there. Just this week alone, they rallied from 17 down to win at Boston, then pulled off the wild 27-point, second-half comeback to prevail at Cleveland.
No real dramatics were needed Friday, especially after Miami allowed only 35 points after halftime.
”We were a little flat in the first half,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”But in the second half, the urgency was much better, created a lot more opportunities off of our defense. I liked the way we finished the game.”
Miami’s magic number for clinching the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference is now three. The Heat also remained 1 1/2 games up on San Antonio, which needed overtime to beat Utah, for the league’s best record.
Greg Monroe finished with 23 points and 15 rebounds for Detroit, which dropped its 10th straight game. Jose Calderon had 18 points and seven assists, most of that coming in the first half for the Pistons, who also got 18 points and eight rebounds from Kyle Singler.
”The effort was there,” Calderon said. ”I thought we played pretty for almost the whole game. When they came out for the second half, they looked like a different team out there. … They tweaked their game plan and it was a bit more difficult to make some baskets. They were more aggressive.”
That’s because they had to be. James said Detroit caught Miami off-guard in the first half with some sets. A quick halftime adjustment or two, and the reigning champions looked like reigning champions again.
”It doesn’t matter who we’re playing. This time of year, it’s going to be a dangerous team,” Spoelstra said. ”It’s going to be a team absolutely urgent, desperate for a playoff position or a team with nothing to lose, no pressure. Either way, you have to impose your will.”
That did not happen, at least not in the early going.
For the fifth time in the last six games, the Heat trailed after the first quarter. Detroit made 12 of its first 18 shots – 67 percent – and took a 28-20 lead fueled by an 8-0 run late in the opening period.
Detroit’s lead went to 11 in the second quarter, with Calderon making all three of his field-goal attempts, all from 3-point range. He wound up with 16 points and six assists at halftime, just the second player to have a first-half stat line like that against the Heat this season. There were times it seemed Detroit was getting whatever it wanted.
Nonetheless, the Heat were down just 54-51 at the break.
”You knew they were going to make a run,” Monroe said. ”That’s what this league is all about. It’s about withstanding them.”
On that front, the Pistons couldn’t keep pace. Detroit scored 28 points in the first quarter, 26 more in the second and 22 in the first 19 minutes of the second half.
After that hot start, Detroit shot 22 for 65 (34 percent) the rest of the way. A lull like that was just too much to overcome, especially when the Heat took off on a 19-8 run to start the fourth quarter and put away the game.
After getting fouled in the open floor and playfully crashing into the basket support midway through the fourth, James took a playful swing at Wade and clearly seemed relaxed even though the Heat were up by only nine.
It was as if he knew the capper was on the way. When play resumed, James set Wade up for a basket that gave Miami its first double-digit lead of the night then threaded a pocket pass to Chris Bosh for a three-point play and a 90-76 lead with 5:47 remaining.
James walked to the far end of the floor, popped out his mouth guard and watched the replay on the overhead video board, then exhaled deeply.
”We were in our groove, both offensively and defensively,” James said. ”I kind of felt like it was at a point where we could kind of break it open.”
The streak lived. Again.
NOTES: Heat G Ray Allen got three stitches in his lower lip. The Heat aren’t sure if he will miss any game time. Miami next plays Sunday at home against Charlotte. … James picked up his fourth straight Eastern Conference player of the month award, this one for February, in a brief halftime ceremony. … The Heat signed F Juwan Howard for the remainder of the season Friday. … South Florida native Brandon Knight (left ankle) remained sidelined for Detroit. … The Heat played a tribute video to the Atlantic Coast Conference champion Miami Hurricanes during the game, along with highlights of their NCAA tournament win from earlier Friday. … Pistons reserve Kim English fouled out with 23.5 seconds left in the third quarter with no points in 12:05 of playing time. The only other players with a zero-point, six-foul night in fewer minutes this season are New York’s Kurt Thomas (9:40) and Toronto’s Amir Johnson (9:26). … Golf’s Greg Norman was in attendance, along with child abuse prevention advocate Lauren Book, who’s on her annual awareness walk from Key West to Tallahassee.