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Heat cruise past Pistons, close on Bulls in East

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Associated Press
4/8/2012 8:49:14 PM
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MIAMI -- James Jones had a big night for the Miami Heat, and coach Erik Spoelstra is going to have some big decisions soon.

LeBron James scored 26 points, Chris Bosh finished with 22 points and nine rebounds, and the rarely used Jones scored 18 off the bench as the Heat steadily pulled away to beat the Detroit Pistons 98-75 on Sunday night.

Getting his biggest chunk of playing time since mid-January, Jones tied a career-best with six 3-pointers and also had four steals for the first time in his career. Spoelstra is already trying to figure out how Miami's playoff rotation will work, and nights like Sunday from Jones probably further complicated some already-tough choices.

"Right now, every guy's on edge pretty much, trying to play to their utmost capabilities," said Jones, who entered Sunday having scored 22 points in Miami's previous 23 games. "We understand it's the playoffs and we need to play better as a team. From one through 15, every guy needs to play better."

Miami played without Dwyane Wade for the 11th time this season. Wade sat out with right ankle soreness, which the team said was caused by an awkward landing on a missed dunk attempt against Memphis on Friday night.

The Heat are now 10-1 when Wade is sidelined this season, and are 18-1 in their last 19 home games.

"Guys just step up in his absence," James said. "We've got a veteran ballclub. Whenever someone is down, guys step up."

Detroit rookie Brandon Knight, playing as a pro in the city where he was born for the first time, scored 16 for the Pistons. Greg Monroe and Rodney Stuckey added 11 apiece for Detroit, which had a season-low eight assists.

"They thoroughly outplayed us," Pistons coach Lawrence Frank said.

Knight had more than 500 friends and family members at the game, and returned to the court long after the final buzzer to address the group. Born in Miami, Knight was a star at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale, and his fans showed up early wearing T-shirts bearing both his name and that of the school.

"I thank you for your support for everything I have done," Knight told the crowd. "It is just a blessing. I can't say enough how thankful I am."

Miami's win, combined with Chicago's overtime loss at New York earlier Sunday, pulled the Heat (40-15) within two games of the Bulls (43-14) for the best record in the Eastern Conference. The teams have two more head-to-head meetings, the first of those in Chicago on Thursday night.

Up next for Miami: The Boston Celtics visit on Tuesday, barely a week after dealing the Heat a 19-point loss.

Besides Wade's absence, there were two lineup issues of note for Miami. First, Mike Miller returned after missing 14 games with a sprained left ankle. Secondly, with slumping Norris Cole out of the rotation Sunday until the final minutes in part because of a 2-for-21 slump, Jones got meaningful minutes again.

He made them count, too.

"A lot of this will be compelling," Spoelstra said. "A lot of guys are making compelling cases to play."

Detroit led 21-19 after a sleepy first quarter -- the teams combined to shoot 1 for 12 from 3-point range in the opening 12 minutes -- but Jones gave the Heat a boost from long range to get the offence going in the second.

Jones made his first three 3-point attempts in the second quarter, after not making a single first-half basket since March 20, helping spark a 31-point period by Miami. A 15-5 run midway through the second, capped by a putback dunk by James, put Miami up 42-32 with 3:40 left.

The margin was still 10 at halftime, before Detroit's offence went from cool to downright cold.

The Pistons started 1 for 10 from the floor in the first 9 minutes of the second half, and that drought eliminated any guesswork regarding the outcome as Miami turned a 10-point halftime lead into a 22-point cushion. James had nine points in what was a 17-5 run to start the third quarter, the run ending when James found Shane Battier under the basket for a layup that put Miami up 67-45.

Ronny Turiaf had two blocked shots and a steal in that start-of-third push by Miami, including swatting away a dunk attempt by Tayshaun Prince.

"They got all of the shots they wanted," Knight said. "It was easy for them. We had turnovers, missed shots, and it all led to the lead piling up."

The fourth quarter started even worse for the Pistons.

They missed their first eight shots from the floor, Miami scored the first nine points of the final quarter -- all with James on the bench -- and a layup by Mario Chalmers made it 78-54 with 9:23 left.

Notes: James' first free throw attempt Sunday was the 6,000th of his career. He started 0 for 4 from the line. ... It was the fourth time this season Jones started at least 3 for 3 in the first half from 3-point range. ... Battier, who started for Wade, had a season-high five assists. And Turiaf's nine rebounds were his high since joining the Heat. ... Cole checked in for the first time with 4:32 left. In barely over 3 minutes, he already was up to 10 points.

LeBron James, Tayshaun Prince (Photo: Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Issac Baldizon/NBAE/Getty Images)
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