Every game counts to LeBron James.
When asked after Monday’s win over the Wizards about Miami’s struggle with the Brooklyn Nets this year, the Heat forward corrected a reporter who claimed Brooklyn was 2-0 against Miami this season.
“It’s 3-0 if you count the preseason,” James said with a straight face.
Using James’ metric, the number is actually slightly worse as the Nets have taken all four games from the Heat.
The saving grace is three of those games were contested in Brooklyn and Wednesday night’s game will be played at the AmericanAirlines Arena where Miami has only lost four times this season.
Brooklyn has started to gel at the right time, moving from 11 games below .500 on New Year’s Day to two games over the hump in mid-March and firmly in playoff position.
The Nets are one of the hottest teams in the NBA having won six of their last seven games, but the streak is not surprising to the Heat players given how long it took for them to get in sync with the hype and pressure surrounding them during the first years of the Big 3.
“We know how difficult it is to come together with high expectations,” forward Chris Bosh said. “It was only a matter of time before they figured it out. They have a very good veteran group out there.”
If Miami is going to break the streak against Brooklyn, it’ll need to maintain the effort it showed on the boards against Washington on Monday night, particularly in the second half.
The Nets are the second-worst rebounding team in the league — ahead of only the Heat — and during their latest seven-game run, have been outrebounded by an average of 45 to 33.3.
That is a weakness Miami can exploit with the type of effort it showed Monday. Despite giving up 50 rebounds and only grabbing 33, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he thought his team showed more hustle than the previous three games, and Miami was able to get timely rebounds late in the contest.
“We didn’t necessarily take care of [rebounding] the way we needed to,” Spoelstra said. “The effort was there, the concentration in that department was better, just not necessarily the result.
“The pursuit was better and we cleaned it up a bit more in the second half … and we got some big ones in the fourth.”
Miami struggled rebounding in the first quarter, giving up season-highs in offensive rebounds for both an opposing player (7) and an opponent (11) in a quarter.
The issue wasn’t effort, as multiple players went up for each missed shot, rather many of those players only went up with one hand and had the ball knocked away from them.
The biggest beneficiary was Wizards center Marcin Gortat who had 10 of his 18 rebounds in the first quarter, including seven on the offensive boards.
“Any time we have breakdowns on defense, it kind of doesn’t play well for us,” Bosh said. “We start scrambling and Gortat was making us pay every time.”
The saving grace for Miami was a stifling defense that held Washington to only 29 percent shooting in the first quarter.
The Wizards were unable to capitalize on their 11 offensive rebounds, converting them into 10 second-chance points, some of which came on third and fourth opportunities at the rim.
Bosh said it’s not hard for Miami to keep up the defensive intensity for extended periods after multiple offensive rebounds; the team must just move on quickly to the next series.
“It’s not taxing [defensively],” he said. “If it happens, it happens. We just have to move on to the next play and try to defend it again.”