If anyone on the Heat’s roster is well suited for an entire week on the shelf between playoff games, then it’s three-point specialist James Jones.
This season, Jones went 31 consecutive games without logging a single minute. From Jan. 18 to March 26, he watched every game the Heat played from the bench. Most nights, Jones was in a suit. Sometimes he dressed. Every time, he just watched and waited.
When he finally played, Jones stroked the first three-pointer he attempted.
“He is a different level,” Heat forward Shane Battier said. “I have never ever played with anyone like J.J. — to shoot like he can under any condition. You put that guy in, and you think he’s making the shot. That is not the norm. … That guy is really one in a million.”
Jones has honed his skill as a “cold shooter” through years of hard work, so stepping on the court Tuesday after seven days between the Heat’s first- and second-round series shouldn’t be very difficult. For everyone else, however, returning to the playoffs after such a long break will be a challenge.
The Heat’s first-round series ended Monday after four mostly uninspiring games against the Charlotte Bobcats. Meanwhile, the rest of the NBA playoffs have been captivating. Saturday featured three Game 7s. Two more will take place Sunday, including the conclusion to the first-round series between the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors. The winner of that Game 7, which tips off at 1 p.m. at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, gets a second-round series against the defending back-to-back champions.
The Nets won Friday night to force the NBA’s first-ever Game 7 on Canadian soil.
“Those teams are competing,” Jones said. “We don’t pick favorites. We’re fans of all the other series just like everyone else. We’re just going to prepare and worry about what we can control, which is our offense, our defense, our continuity and our consistency, and whoever we play, we just play them to the best of our ability.”
The Heat swept the Raptors 4-0 this season and lost all four of its games against the Nets. Of course, it would be misguided to draw any real conclusions from those lopsided numbers. The Raptors have enough athleticism, youth and size to give the Heat problems, and the Heat’s season series against the Nets couldn’t have been any more competitive. Three of the losses to Brooklyn were by a combined four points and the fourth game went into overtime.
“It doesn’t matter,” point guard Norris Cole said. “Playoffs are a totally different season. Records don’t matter, especially not with our team and having everybody together now. It won’t matter.”
Cole, a third-year player who has won every playoff series he has ever played (nine and counting), is understandably confident, but if the Heat’s second round in 2013 was any indication, then Game 1 of the Heat’s second-round series Tuesday presents a challenge unique to even the playoffs.
The Heat faced a similar scenario last year and, surprisingly, lost to the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of its second-round series after a long break between rounds. The Bulls needed seven games to knock off the Nets in 2013, and had just one day between series. Despite the quick turnaround, the Bulls defeated the Heat 93-86 in Game 1. The Heat scored just 15 points in the first quarter.
Having learned from last year’s mistakes, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has approached his team’s weeklong break this time around similar to a football coach. The team conditioned and scrimmaged early in the week, and took the day off Saturday.
Also different this year: the team is expected to feature Jones off the bench. He will not be a focal point for the Heat, but his ready-made offense is valued by teammates, and his presence on the court also adds a measure of confidence, especially for LeBron James. Jones’ total plus-minus against the Bobcats was plus-46, and his per-game plus-minus average was 11.5. Both of those numbers led the team in the first round.
Equally noteworthy, if not redundant: the two-man combination of Jones and James featured the best plus-minus (plus-46) of any pairing against the Bobcats.
“We’ve come to expect that out of James,” Chris Bosh said. “He’s the best cold shooter I’ve ever seen. He just comes in and makes shots right away.
“He has kind of spoiled us a little bit in that aspect, just with his ability. He’s a pro’s pro.”