During the Big Three era, the Heat has firmly established that regular season success against Miami often doesn’t extend to the playoffs.
But beating the Brooklyn Nets once this season – something Miami still hasn’t done – would provide, at the very least, some positive reinforcement amid the possibility of the teams meeting in the second round of the playoffs.
Brooklyn enters Tuesday’s game at AmericanAirlines Arena having gone 3-0 against the Heat this season and with the confidence of knowing it matches up well against the two-time defending champions.
All of the games have been close, with Brooklyn winning by one on Nov. 1, by nine in double overtime on Jan. 10 and by one on March 12 in Miami.
“All we have to know about Brooklyn is we haven’t beaten them this year, including the preseason,” coach Erik Spoelstra said.
The teams would meet in the second round if Miami finishes with the top seed in the Eastern Conference (the Heat is one game ahead of Indiana) and if Brooklyn (the likely fifth seed) wins its opening round series against Chicago or Toronto. Brooklyn, which is 32-13 since Jan. 1, is 2 ½ games behind the fourth seed (Chicago) and 2 ½ games ahead of the sixth seed (Washington).
Asked Monday if the Nets have the best chance to knock off the Heat among the Eastern Conference contenders, guard Joe Johnson said: “I think we have a good chance. We can play with any team in this league. We’ve proven it.”
Said Nets point guard Deron Williams: “We like our chances in a seven-game series against anybody.”
But also keep this in mind: The Heat went 1-3 in the regular season against Boston and 0-3 against Chicago in 2010-11, then ousted both in five-game playoff series. In 2011-12, Miami again went 1-3 against Boston during the regular season, then eliminated the Celtics in a seven-game Eastern Conference Finals.
Nets forward Paul Pierce, who played on those Celtics teams, mentioned that Monday before Brooklyn’s practice at AmericanAirlines Arena. (The Heat took Monday off.)
“It really means nothing in the playoffs,” Pierce said of the Nets’ regular-season success against Miami. “Last couple years we [Boston] beat them three times in the regular season also, wound up losing to them in the playoffs. They have the experience as a unit together and they’re the champions. They’re the team to beat.”
But Pierce added: “We match up pretty good with them. Size wise, they’re not an overly big team. If you can match them in quickness and intensity, especially on their home court, you give yourself a chance. The way we shoot the ball, we can pretty much play with anybody when we’re on.
“We don’t like to see them getting up and down, getting dunks, crowd getting into it. That’s pretty much their game. Keep them away from that, and I think for the most part we’ve been able to do that. That’s why we’ve fared pretty well against them.”
Williams concurred, saying: “We’ve done a good job of controlling the tempo and playing our game in the three games against them.”
And Kevin Garnett said another reason for the Nets’ success against Miami is “we get exceptional ball movement. We have different weapons. When we’ve played them, we’ve played to a high level of confidence and been aggressive. Against great teams, you have to do that.”
The Heat had won 13 regular-season games in a row against the Nets heading into the season, but the Nets reshaped their roster by adding Pierce and Garnett, among others.
Both teams could be short-handed on Tuesday. Dwyane Wade, Greg Oden and Chris Andersen all remain questionable with injuries, and Wade told ABC on Sunday that his strained hamstring, which has caused him to miss six games in a row, isn’t where he wants it to be. Brooklyn coach Jason Kidd said Garnett will miss Tuesday’s game because the Nets are being cautious with his back.
A few themes developed in the Heat’s previous losses to Brooklyn. Among them:
• The Nets outrebounded the Heat by 10, 10 and four in the three games.
• The Heat averaged 16 turnovers in the three losses, with LeBron James committing 14.
• The Heat has had just seven, nine and seven fast-break points in the three games.
• Pierce averaged 20.6 points in the three games against Miami – well above his career-low 13.5 scoring average this season. “Games against the Heat, he’s played great,” Johnson said. “I look forward to him continuing that.”
Johnson blitzed Miami for 32 points in one of the wins. There have been some unexpected twists, too, including point guard Shaun Livingston hauling in 11 rebounds in one of the games.
Even though Miami played one of the three games without Wade, the Nets were without Garnett and Williams for one of those games, as well. And Nets center Brook Lopez, out for the season with a foot injury, missed two of those games.