The Heat were 7-8 in March heading into a road weekend against the Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks and are dealing with a rash of injuries that had them dusting off the end of the bench just to field a starting lineup. They were missing three starters and their top sub as Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, Greg Oden and Ray Allen were all out.
But they are not yet in the territory in which they can blow off games. They didn't on Friday, playing with great energy to rip the Pistons 110-78. LeBron James made sure to set the tone for it, racking up seven assists in the first few minutes of the game on his way to his first triple-double of the season in just three quarters of work.
Despite a damaging loss to the Indiana Pacers earlier in the week, the Heat are right back in the game for the top seed in the Eastern Conference after the Pacers went down in Washington by failing to score 80 points for the third time in four games.
The Heat are back to just a game behind the Pacers in the loss column -- though they’re pretty much assured to lose the tiebreaker based on their record against conference opponents -- and Indiana hosts the red-hot San Antonio Spurs on Monday.
"We can’t worry about what Indiana is doing. We’ve got to focus on ourselves," James said. "If we take care of business, we’ll see what happens."
The Pistons were not trying to lose, at least theoretically, but it really was the best outcome for them. The only intrigue left in the regular season is whether Detroit can finish with at least the eighth-worst record in the league. If so, they will not have to send their first-round draft pick to the Charlotte Bobcats as part of a deal to rid themselves of Ben Gordon two years ago.
If they end up with the ninth pick or lower, the pick conveys and they’re out of the first round in what is generally considered a deep draft. They slipped firmly into eighth earlier in the week when the Cleveland Cavaliers passed them by hitting a buzzer-beater on their floor.
On a night when they got a sellout crowd because they were honoring the Bad Boy teams’ back-to-back championships 25 years ago, the Pistons showed little to no fight as the Heat blitzed them. It was a summary of the season after an offseason investment in the roster built up a false hope for this underachieving Pistons team.
Coming off a five-game run during which they failed to crack 100 points, the Heat piled up 18 assists in the first half before the Pistons forced a single turnover and rolled to 92 points in just first three quarters.
Pistons owner Tom Gores stayed in his courtside seat until the bitter end, though at some point his thoughts had to be turning toward his alma mater, Michigan State, and its concurrent Sweet 16 game. Gores has already fired his head coach and hinted he’ll make changes at the end of the season to his front office.
Gores warmly greeted team president Joe Dumars as he was introduced alongside Isiah Thomas as part of a proud halftime ceremony in which the two-time champions were honored, though many expect Dumars to either lose his job or lose his decision-making powers within a month or so.
Thomas took the microphone to speak for the group and did so eloquently. Thomas is brilliant at two things, for sure: playing point guard and turning on the charm. As a basketball executive -- as his time with the Toronto Raptors and New York Knicks showed -- he’s not as successful.
He spent long minutes embracing his former teammates as well as Heat players and coaches, including James. Thomas gave Heat forward Shane Battier a special shout out, calling the former Pistons ball boy an honorary Bad Boy.
It was a special moment for Battier, who played what he believes will be his final game in his hometown on Friday. He plans to retire at the end of the season, and, as a tribute, the Heat held their morning walk-through at Country Day School, at which Battier starred as a teenager.
"That was an all-time moment, and this was an all-time day," Battier said. "I was giving out a lot of his fist bumps, winks and kisses [to the crowd]. If I had some roses, I would’ve thrown them."
Thomas has officially been out of the NBA since 2008, though he not-so-secretly was an adviser to Knicks owner Jim Dolan for years. With Phil Jackson taking over in New York and Thomas' influence there essentially at an end, sources say that Thomas has been campaigning to find a role with the Pistons or Cavaliers, who fired their general manager in February.
Whether those feelings will be returned is yet to be seen, as both Gores and Cavs owner Dan Gilbert, both Detroit natives, have a relationship with Thomas, but the Pistons and the Cavs really have their eye on another soon-to-be former Piston.
Chauncey Billups, who is likely headed toward his own retirement after knee surgery ended his season, is the apple of both the Cavs' and Pistons' eye for a role in their respective franchise's leadership. While there might be some interest in getting Billups to follow in contemporary Jason Kidd’s footsteps and go right from player to coach, Billups has been hinting openly for years he’d rather graduate to the front office at the end of his career.
All that is for later. For now, the Pistons might need to worry about avoiding embarrassment Saturday in Philadelphia, where the 76ers are poised to set the NBA record with their 27th consecutive loss as the Pistons come to town. If they play with the same effort they did in front of their largest home crowd of the season and the most decorated players in their franchise history, that record might not get set.
Meanwhile, the combination of the Heat win and Pacers loss had Miami feeling good about itself after what’s been a rough month.
"You have to move on in this league," James said. "As much as we wanted that game [in Indiana], you have to move on from it and learn from it, and we did that."