The battle for seventh place in the Eastern Conference began on Tuesday in Brooklyn, and the Nets’ defense was almost as leaky as the roof of Barclays Center.
Despite playing without Chris Bosh, Josh McRoberts and Danny Granger, the Heat defeated the Nets 95-91 to end a difficult stretch of the season. It was an encouraging victory for the injury-depleted team and an embarrassing night for the Nets. Not only did the team with the NBA’s highest payroll roll over for the Heat, the roof of the Barclays Center leaked rainwater onto the court and forced a stoppage in play.
The game was suspended in the first quarter when the roof sprung a leak and water began dripping onto the court. Arena personnel contained the problem with a trash can, which signified nothing and everything on this night.
Once again playing with a lingering stomach illness, Wade was masterful against the Nets’ uninspired defense. The Heat’s shooting guard slashed to the basket with ease throughout the game and finished with 28 points. He was 12 of 24 from the field, and his 16-foot turnaround jumper gave the Heat 92-83 lead with 2:14 left.
“I was just trying to be aggressive offensively,” Wade said. “We’re missing Chris, who is a very big part of our team, of our offensive production, so I wanted to take it on my only shoulders. … I mean, if I’m out here, I’m going to do something. If not, I could have stayed in the hotel and got some rest.”
The Heat returns home Wednesday for a game against the Utah Jazz, which lost at New Orleans on Tuesday night. The Heat defeated the Jazz 100-95 last Friday in Salt Lake City. Since that game, the Heat has lost two starters (Bosh and McRoberts) to injuries. Granger remained at the team hotel on Tuesday’s game with an illness, and Wade said he wasn’t sure if he would play against Utah.
“Hopefully, [Wednesday] I’m a lot better,” Wade said.
The Heat led by 10 points with 1:39 to play, but a turnover by Mario Chalmers gave Brooklyn hope with 1:06 left in the game. Joe Johnson drilled a three-pointer five seconds later and, following a missed three-pointer by Heat forward Luol Deng, the Nets’ made it one-possession game on a three-pointer by Bojan Bogdanovic.
It wasn’t over until Deng made a pair of free throws with 11.8 seconds left.
Wade missed a three-pointer with the Heat ahead by two points, but Deng got the offensive rebound and was fouled by Bogdanovic. Deng made both free throws to put the Heat ahead by four points, and the game ended terribly when Nets reserve Jarrett Jack missed a layup with two seconds left. Heat guard Norris Cole then missed two free throws, which only added to the ignominy.
Never mind the style points, though. The Heat will take victories any way they come these days. The team has now won three of its past five games despite constant turnover in the starting lineup and rotations. Wade called Tuesday’s win “one of the most gratifying of the season.”
“We’re the depleted Heat-ed right now,” Wade said jokingly. “So, to come in here after a tough game the other night with guys hurt, sick and not feeling well — Danny didn’t even make it over here — to be able to pull it out shows a lot of character and toughness for this team.”
Deng had 18 points, going 5 of 13 from the field, 2 of 7 from three-point range and 6 of 8 from the free-throw line. The Heat’s bench combined for 35 points with rookie Shabazz Napier scoring 11 points, Chalmers and Shawne Williams scoring 10 each and Chris Andersen finishing with four. The Heat shot 45.8 percent from the field as a team.
“It’s such a long season, I think the biggest thing is to just keep improving and not really play the record right now,” Deng said. “We got guys who are in and out. Who are we and what’s our identity going forward?”
A resilient team if the last week means anything.
A three-pointer by Napier gave the Heat an 82-71 lead with 9:35 left. Napier was shipped to the Heat’s D-League team following the victory in Salt Lake City, but rejoined the team on Monday after the injuries to Bosh and McRoberts. Rookie Hassan Whiteside also rejoined the Heat after being assigned to the Sioux Falls Skyforce, but he did not play against the Nets.
The Heat (12-13) held the Nets (10-13) to 39 percent shooting. Both teams were 7.5 games out of first place entering the game, but the Heat now stands alone in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.
Center Mason Plumlee led the Nets with 21 points and Johnson had 16 points, going 4 of 8 from three-point range. Guard Deron Williams had 15 points, but was 4 of 12 from the field. Williams also had 11 assists.
With Bosh and McRoberts both out, the Heat started Justin Hamilton and Udonis Haslem in the frontcourt against Plumlee and Kevin Garnett. Nets center Brook Lopez missed the game with a back injury. Hamilton had three points in 17 minutes and Haslem scored seven points in 24 minutes. Andersen had four points and nine rebounds in 21 minutes.
The Heat led by 15 points in the first half despite its limited roster.