Five takeaways: Ball movement, 3-pointers push Heat past Pistons to move three games above .500

MIAMI — It’s still only January, but a few Heat players used the word “playoffs” before their game against the Pistons.

That’s because if the Heat want to be a playoff team, they will need to earn wins against teams ahead of them in the standings. Miami did that Wednesday, defeating Detroit 111-104 at AmericanAirlines Arena to begin a three-game homestand.

The result pulled the Heat (20-17) within just one-half game of the Pistons (20-16) in the ever-changing Eastern Conference standings. Miami is three games above .500 for the first time since the end of the 2015-16 season.

“We walked into the locker room and somebody said this is the first time in two years we’ve been three games above .500,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “One, that’s sobering. But then also it shows you that we’re grinding, we see progress and guys played with a lot of confidence in the second half and you always like to see that. It seemed like everybody we put out there was playing aggressively with confidence.”

Miami Heat’s James Johnson (16) passes over Detroit Pistons’ Luke Kennard, right, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2018, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

With the game tied at 81 entering the fourth quarter, the Heat outscored the Pistons 30-23 in the final period. Miami shot 11-of-18 (61.1 percent) in the fourth quarter.

The Heat had six players finish with double-digit points. Kelly Olynyk led the way with a team-high 25 points on 11-of-15 shooting and 13 rebounds, and Goran Dragic finished with 24 points and 13 assists.

Heat forward Josh Richardson also turned in a strong performance with 22 points and five assists.

Tobias Harris scored a team-high 19 points for the Pistons.

Detroit played without Andre Drummond (ribs), Reggie Jackson (right ankle sprain), Jon Leuer (left ankle sprain) and Stanley Johnson (hip). Miami was without Rodney McGruder (left tibia surgery), Okaro White (left foot surgery), Dion Waiters (sprained left ankle) and Justise Winslow (strained left knee).

Here are our five takeaways …

The power of three: Miami used the 3-pointer to defeat Detroit, making 17-of-34 shots from behind the 3-point line. The Heat outscored the Pistons 51-27 on threes. It’s been obvious this season that 3-pointers are a big part of Miami’s offense. Miami shattered its record for 3-point shot attempts in a single season with 2,213 last year, which easily surpassed the previous mark of 1,865 set in 1996-97. But the Heat are on their way to setting a new record, as they are on pace to attempt 2,570 3-pointers this season.

James Johnson is back: After missing six of the past seven games with right ankle bursitis, Heat forward James Johnson made his return against the Pistons and he was effective. He finished with 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting in 24 minutes. And the good news is that Johnson didn’t aggravate the injury this time. His first attempt at a return from right ankle bursitis came on Dec. 23 against the Pelicans, but it came to an abrupt end when he suffered a setback following just eight minutes of playing time and did not return. Johnson missed three more games after aggravating the injury against New Orleans, but it looks like he’s back for good now.

“He’s put in a lot of time,” Spoelstra said of Johnson. “You can tell he’s not 100 percent with his timing and fluidity, but he brings us another big layer of versatility on both ends of the court. We become a totally different basketball team when he’s out there. I loved getting him 23 minutes. He felt like he didn’t even get in a full workout so he’s actually working out right now again. But yeah, another day of treatment and rehab work, hopefully we can get him even closer to what he was.”

Move the ball: The Heat’s offense always looks better when it’s moving the ball. That’s why Miami looked so crisp offensively against Detroit. The Heat finished with 29 assists on 43 made baskets. Goran Dragic led the charge with a season-high 13 assists, which is the second-most assists he’s recorded in a game during his Heat career. Miami’s 29 assists against Detroit matched a season-high and it’s the fourth time this season it has finished with more than 25 assists in a game.

“Yeah, you have to be intentional about it,” Spoelstra said of the Heat’s ball movement. “You have to read the defense, help each other get to our strengths. We still want to be an aggressive team. We want to get opportunities to touch the paint and then when we do and those layers of the offense are working with detail, it opens up a lot of times open 3-point shots. Tonight it felt like we were getting the right 3-point shots. Extra pass, good screens that would lead to what we call one more, a good to great opportunity. That’s good to see.”

Goran Dragic looks like himself again: For the second consecutive game, Goran Dragic looked like his healthy self after battling through a sore left shooting elbow for the past few weeks. The Heat’s point guard finished with 24 points and 13 assists against the Pistons. With the elbow sleeve off, Dragic looks like he’s finally past the injury. After Wednesday’s performance, he’s averaging 24.5 points on 48.8 percent shooting over the past two games. That’s a big improvement from his first three games back from injury, when he averaged 12.7 points on 31.1 percent shooting.

The Heat are staying home: Wednesday’s win marked the start of a three-game homestand for Miami. The Heat will face the Knicks on Friday and the Jazz on Sunday to complete this stretch at AmericanAirlines Arena. Considering 11 of the Heat’s next 14 games come on the road after this homestand, they have to take advantage of the schedule this week. But playing in Miami hasn’t translated into a lot of success for the Heat so far, as they are 9-9 at AmericanAirlines Arena and 11-8 on the road this season.

“We don’t want to stop now. We still got a few games at home,” Dragic said. “We want to upgrade this record even more. We’re three games over .500, that’s a good record, but why not more? We have good quality players, as long as we’re on the same page, we can win anywhere.”

[Playoff? Yes, we’re talking playoffs as Heat-Pistons square off tonight]

[With swelling down in elbow, Heat’s Goran Dragic says he looked like ‘old self’ against Magic]

[Erik Spoelstra not happy with Hassan Whiteside’s decision to shed knee brace. Says it’s ‘non-negotiable’]

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