There was a time in the recent past when a Heat-Nets confrontation was appointment viewing.
By any appreciable measure what transpired Wednesday night at Barclays Center did not resemble the showdowns from years past. Indeed, those matchups were underscored by playoff implications, whereas the first meeting of the 2016-17 season featured two Eastern Conference franchises emphasizing the future instead of a clash in the spring.
Yet it was a mainstay from those halcyon encounters whose presence loomed largest in the Heat’s 109-106 win over the Nets: Brook Lopez.
In his ninth season with the Nets, Lopez was the primary reason that the Heat (16-30) barely escaped Brooklyn with its fifth consecutive win. Lopez finished with 33 points on 11-of-23 shooting, including a career-high seven three- pointers. Essentially, he carried the Nets (9-36) for three quarters.
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“Brook came out hot in the first half,” Dion Waiters said. “We had to adjust.”
Which is exactly what the Heat did in the fourth. The Heat outscored the Nets 38-17 in the fourth quarter, highlighted by Okaro White’s right-side three-pointer which put Miami ahead 102-101 with 58 seconds remaining. Defensively, the Heat limited Lopez to two points in the period and forced the seven-footer to miss all five shots from the field he took.
“We did a great job,” James Johnson said of the Heat’s defensive approach against Lopez in the fourth. “A lot of fronting, a lot of fighting with that great player.”
White extended the lead to 104-101 with two free throws, only to see Trevor Booker’s layin slice the advantage to one. Following a timeout, Waiters drilled a top-of-the-line three to push the lead to 107-103. Wayne Ellington knocked down two free throws with two seconds left before Spencer Dinwiddie’s meaningless three at the buzzer.
“We were still up one point,” Waiters said of his game-deciding 3. “Fortunately, I made the shot.
“I love those type of moments.”
Waiters led the Heat with 24 points, 14 of them coming in the fourth. Ellington had 22 points in 36 minutes off the bench. Goran Dragic added 17 points.
“He has that almost irrational confidence,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of Waiters. “You need that. I feel very comfortable with the ball in his hands, especially in key, clutch moments.
“He really stepped up in the fourth quarter.”
Miami entered the game having won seven of eight against the Nets dating to the 2014-15 season, and had a 10-point lead at 42-32 with 10:40 left in the second quarter. But the Nets finished the half on a 34-13 run and extended their advantage to 18 (89-71) at the end of the third quarter.
Waiters pointed to an early third-quarter timeout in which Spoelstra sat him, Luke Babbitt, Rodney McGruder and Hassan Whiteside as the turning point.
“I’m glad he did that,” Waiters said. “It gave the guys and myself a chance to sit back, reflect and figure out what the hell we were doing out there.
“I told the guys, even when I was on the bench, ‘We’re going to win this game.’ I kept telling them, ‘We’re going to win this game.’ ”
While Waiters was preaching positivity, first-year Nets coach Kenny Atkinson was relegated to watching a long-since lost season continue to spiral down the drain.
“That fourth quarter two things happened,” Atkinson said. “We were missing shots and then on the defensive end, we couldn’t get stops. You can’t give up 38 points in the fourth quarter.”
▪ Prior to the game, NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Kiki Vandeweghe announced in a news release that Golden State Warriors center Zaza Pachulia was “fined $15,000 for striking Miami Heat forward Luke Babbitt in the face,” in the fourth quarter of Monday night’s 105-102 win over the Warriors at AmericanAirlines Arena.