Nets focus on stopping LeBron James again in trip to Miami
The lasting memories from the Nets’ two wins over Miami are centered on what the defense did to LeBron James.
In two games in Brooklyn, James has 52 points, shot 23-of-40 and reached the foul line 17 times. He also has committed nine of Miami’s 30 turnovers in the season series.
On the surface, those numbers appear to be an indication James has dominated at times.
What they don’t reflect is Paul Pierce making a crucial block on James with five minutes remaining in a Nov. 1 win. The Nets led by 10 at the time but considering the fact they won the home opener by one (101-100), that play can be seen as crucial.
Two months later, the 104-95 double overtime win was defined by Mirza Teletovic angering James with a hard foul and Shaun Livingston getting James to foul out for the first time in nearly six years.
Without those plays and wins, the Nets would be a .500 team. But the Nets want more and their latest stop on the 2014 recovery tour takes them to Miami on Wednesday night.
The Nets are three games back of Toronto in the Atlantic and sixth in the East. They’re also a half game behind Washington for fifth and the right to play Chicago, which is 2 1/2 ahead of Brooklyn but also a half game behind Toronto for the third seed.
In other words, the race for positioning is heating up and the level of intensity for games against the Heat must be similar to that of games against lesser teams.
“Every game is big,” Pierce said. “We have 20 games left. Every game means something as far as moving up in the standings — where you’re going to be, how you’re going to position yourself, are you [getting] home-court [advantage] or going to be on the road in the first round. So all these games are huge.
“Everybody is so close up together. Outside of Miami and Indiana, you see Washington, you see Chicago, you see us right there, Toronto [also]. All those four teams can change week by week, so we’re trying to get ourselves in the best position possible going into the playoffs.
The Nets have not won in Miami since Jason Kidd’s days as the team’s point guard. Their last victory there was Feb. 1, 2008 when Kidd had 11 points and 12 assists in a 94-85 victory while starting alongside Vince Carter, Richard Jefferson, Sean Williams and Josh Boone.
Miami started Dwyane Wade, Mark Blount, Earl Barron, Jason Williams and Dorrell Wright in that game. But since adding James and Chris Bosh to the roster in 2010, the Heat came into this season with a nine-game winning streak in the “Big Three” era and a 13-game run overall.
Coming into this season, the expectation was that the Nets might be near Miami in the standings. That notion quickly dissipated with Brooklyn’s severely disjointed first 31 games, but now the Nets are peaking just in time to take on the Heat.
“It’s another big game,” Deron Williams said. “We beat them twice at home so we know that they’re going to want revenge.”
Unlike the last meeting, the Nets might not be playing with a full deck. Kevin Garnett has missed six straight games with back spasms and will not even travel with the team to Miami. Andrei Kirilenko sat out Monday with a right ankle injury and will travel, but his status is unknown.
Those absences might have been a big deal in 2013, but so far the Nets have shown they can overcome Garnett’s absence, especially if they can come close to the 21 or 28 turnovers they forced against Memphis and Chicago respectively last week.
“I think we’ve been very good with our active hands,” Pierce said. “I’d like us to be a better rebounding team but stuff like that just doesn’t turn overnight, so we’re taking advantage of our strengths right now causing turnovers, getting out on the break and shooting threes. When we’re doing that, we’re at our best.”
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.