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The Pistons won for the sixth time in the last seven games, topping the Heat. Rod Beard, The Detroit News

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Miami — Despite their struggles in December and January, the Pistons are getting hot at just the right time.

On Saturday night, they were hot again — even hotter than the Heat — and the Pistons are using that to rise in the standings.

Buoyed by their bench, the Pistons won a critical head-to-head matchup in Miami, trouncing the Heat, 119-96, on Saturday night at American Airlines Arena.

The victory is their sixth in the last seven games and pushed the Pistons into seventh place in the East, ahead of the Hornets, who lost to the Nets earlier Saturday. The Nets lead the Pistons by 1 1/2 games for sixth place.

BOX SCORE: Pistons 119, Heat 96

More: Maker's mark: Go-ahead shot big for Pistons' Thon Maker

Ish Smith led the bench uprising with 22 points and nine assists and Blake Griffin added 20 points and six assists as the Pistons (28-30) swept their back-to-back road trip after the All-Star break.

The reserves scored 66 of the Pistons’ points, with Langston Galloway and Luke Kennard adding 17 points each, after struggling mightily against the Hawks on Friday night.  

“They responded. That’s what they’re supposed to do. They did their job and that’s all you can ask,” coach Dwane Casey said. “Langston hadn’t played as well in a while and stepped up tonight. Luke Kennard had one of his better defensive games and Ish Smith came in and did his job. Reggie had big minutes (Friday) night so Ish came in and did his part.

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Blake Griffin had 20 points and helped the Pistons move into seventh place in the East. Rod Beard, The Detroit News

“The bench stepped up big time; we talked about it today and they responded in a big-time way.”

The Heat (26-32) were within 82-76 late in the third quarter but Smith hit a jumper with 6.5 seconds left to stretch the lead to eight. From there, the Pistons started the fourth quarter on a 14-2 run, with only a basket by Dwyane Wade (15 points) during the spurt.

Galloway got hot quickly, scoring 15 of his 17 points in the first 4:10 of the period. He opened with a jumper, then hit 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions. He added another at the 7:30 mark then topped it with a 4-point play to push the lead to 105-84 at the 6:56 mark.

“It was great because it’s not like they could focus in on one thing specifically with our second unit,” Galloway said. “Once they got rolling and I got going, it was perfect for us because we tried to spread that lead as much as we could and keep the starters on the bench.”

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Observations

1. The bench group that had been struggling for the Pistons — on both ends of the court — had a resurgent effort, buoyed by 22 points from Smith and 17 each from Kennard and Galloway. Against the Hawks, the Pistons bench had double-digit-negative plus-minus ratings and Casey was concerned about their lack of production on offense. Problem solved, at least for one night.

2. Galloway bounced back from a severe shooting slump, getting back into form in a major way, hitting 6-of-7 from the field, including four 3-pointers. His playing time had diminished a bit but he’s showing that he can heat up at any given time — but noticeably when the Pistons needed a big night from the reserves.

3. After playing just 23 minutes in Friday’s win over the Hawks, Griffin was primed to be fresh and play significant minutes on the second night of the back-to-back. He got the minutes, but he didn’t have a big burst of energy. He shot 5-of-15 from the field Saturday and much like Friday’s comeback win, Griffin’s teammates found a way to win without him being a big contributor.

4. The Pistons are taking care of their business against the weaker teams in the league, after going through some rough patches during the middle part of the season. With the back-to-back road wins, they improved to 11-17 away from home. They’ll return to Little Caesars Arena on Monday to face the Pacers.

5. Wayne Ellington got a nice ovation in his first game back at Miami. He played 25 minutes and finished with six points, on 2-of-5 shooting (both 3-pointers). He was defended heavily, as the Heat players knew his tendencies and prevented him from getting the looks he wanted.

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @detnewsRodBeard

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