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Miami Heat vs. Detroit Pistons game recap, Feb. 23, 2019

If the Miami Heat misses the playoffs for the third time in five seasons, games like Saturday will be the reason why. The Heat has hung around the fringes of the postseason mix in the Eastern Conference all season long — never climbing higher than the No. 5 seed and rarely dipping more than a few games worse than the No. 8 seed.

In front of 19,600 at AmericanAirlines Arena, Miami fell to the Detroit Pistons, 119-96. It was the Heat’s second loss this season to the Pistons, who currently hold the No. 7 seed and now a two-game cushion on the Heat. The Charlotte Hornets are in eighth place and 1 1/2 games ahead of Miami.

The Heat, which slipped into a tie for ninth place with the Orlando Magic after its latest loss, has struggled all season against the teams in similar position. Miami (26-32) is 1-1 against the sixth-place Brooklyn Nets, 0-2 against the seventh-place Charlotte Hornets, 1-2 against the Magic and now 1-2 against Detroit. All four teams are separated by two games and fighting for the last two playoff spots in the East.

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The Heat’s issues Saturday began even before tipoff. Point forward Justise Winslow, who has started at point guard since the end of last year, was ruled out with left knee soreness. Forward James Johnson, another regular starter, sat out because of a strained AC joint in his left shoulder. Miami reinserted wing Rodney McGruder into the starting lineup, but he bruised his right knee in the second quarter, forcing the Heat to go with power forward Duncan Robinson, who has spent most of the season with the G League Sioux Falls Skyforce, to start the third quarter.

In the third, Miami, which once led by 11, watched Detroit (28-30) build its lead all the way to 15 before a mini-burst cut the deficit to 84-76 entering the fourth quarter.

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