Heat

Heat Throttle Pistons, 98-75

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LeBron James

MIAMI, FL – APRIL 8: LeBron James #6 of the Miami Heat controls the ball against Rodney Stuckey #3 of the Detroit Pistons on April 8, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)

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MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — He’s been missing from the lineup while the Heat have struggled in March, but James Jones was finally unleashed against the Detroit Pistons Sunday night and came up big.

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.

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.

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.”

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