NEWARK, N.J. -- New Jersey Nets forward Mario West will never be confused with Jerry West.
But after scoring 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting -- including 1-for-2 from 3-point range -- in his Nets’ debut Friday night, and somehow converting a nifty circus layup on Sunday night that brought his team within eight points of the Miami Heat, Mario West must’ve forgotten.
West, who came in having scored just 145 points in 157 career NBA games, is best known for his defense.
That’s why the Heat backed off of West with 1:29 remaining in the third quarter, daring him to make his third career 3-pointer from the left wing. West could’ve driven to the basket and tried to make a play there. Instead, he took the bait and jacked up the 3 with an ugly one-handed motion which missed, much to the chagrin of the sellout Prudential Center crowd.
West was faced with the same situation with 7:03 left in the fourth and the Nets trailing 85-77. And what happened? The same exact thing.
He was open from downtown on the left wing. The Heat dared him to shoot. He did, with that same ugly one-handed motion. And he missed, just like he did the first time.
James Jones snagged the rebound, went down the other end of the court and nailed an open 3-pointer. Just like that, Miami was up by 11. The Nets never did get within five.
They did manage to cut a 21-point second-quarter deficit to six in the final stanza -- and West’s stymieing defense on LeBron James was a huge reason why -- but that was as close as they’d get in a 108-94 loss to the Heat.
Hindsight, of course, is 20/20. But if West had to do it over again, would he have taken those shots?
“No, absolutely not,” said West, who finished with only two points, but helped hold James to just 16 points on 6-for-10 shooting in the final 36 minutes after he dropped 15 points on 7-for-8 from the floor in the first quarter. “I should’ve been more aggressive and attacking the basket. That’s just something [my shooting] I’ve gotta continue to work on. So that when I get those open shots, I can capitalize on that and make the team pay.”
James made the Nets pay from the opening tip, absolutely abusing Sasha Vujacic in the process. He reeled off nine consecutive points along with two assists during a 13-0 run that gave the Heat a 17-4 lead. James was getting to the basket with ease, finishing at the rim in transition. All four of his baskets during that spurt were layups.
So, just 5:12 into the game, head coach Avery Johnson decided to make a change, inserting West into the lineup for Vujacic.
James still ended up getting his. He always does. And on Sunday night, it came in the form of a dominant game-high 31 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists on 13-for-18 shooting.
But if not for West, who at least contained James, forcing him into some tough shots and making him give up the ball, it would’ve been worse.
“If Damion James was healthy, we would’ve put him on LeBron,” Johnson said. “But Mario West came in and gave us a huge lift defensively. I know he didn’t score the ball, but it gave us a big lift defensively.”
Granted, he could’ve given the Nets an bigger boost offensively if he’d tried to attack the rim instead of jacking up those two 3s from the perimeter.
“Yeah, we’ll talk to him about that,” Johnson said. “That’s not necessarily his strength. He should’ve put the ball on the floor and tried to make another play. But I guess he thought he was so wide open. And one of those 3s came in and out.
“We were 8-for-28 from 3. But I’m telling you about seven or eight of those were wide open and we just didn’t make them.”
They didn’t rebound (50-32) or defend the paint (60-30) either, and that contributed much more to the loss than West. The fact that the Heat have three superstars in James, Dwyane Wade (18 points) and Chris Bosh (16 points) to the Nets’ one, Deron Williams, (18 points, 12 assists) didn’t help either.
Not much good came out of Sunday night’s 14-point loss. But then there was West’s defense.
“I just tried to stay in his face,” West said. “Stay in front of him, and keep him from getting to the basket. He’s so strong. And once he gets the basket, he can absorb the contact and still finish. So like I said, you just wanna try to make him shoot jump shots and contest them.”
If he is fighting for his professional life in the NBA, West put up a good one.
“I don’t look at it like that,” West said. “I just have a job to do. Every time I get the call, I just want to do it to the best of my ability and help my teammates.”
He did with his defense on James. Just not with those two critical 3-point misses.