NEW YORK -- It’s not usual for LeBron James to question Erik Spoelstra’s coaching decisions, at least not publicly. James has built up tremendous respect for the Miami Heat coach and consistently credits him for his strategies.
But James did send a little message to his coach heading into the Heat’s Game 4 against the Brooklyn Nets. James wants to play more with James Jones, the Heat’s little-used but valuable sweet shooting wing.
James and Jones have been the Heat’s most productive tandem in the playoffs when looking at plus/minus data. But after playing a significant role in the first round against the Charlotte Bobcats, Jones has been out of the rotation in the three games so far against the Nets.
“We have to find some minutes for him, I don’t see why he shouldn’t play,” James said. “He’s huge for our team when he’s in the lineup.”
Jones is 10-of-20 on 3-pointers in the playoffs and he and James complement each other well on the floor. Because Jones is an elite spot-up shooter, James likes to play on the same side of the floor and force defenses to choose between the two. When playing together in the playoffs, Jones and James have combined to shoot 56 percent from the field.
Spoelstra has not used Jones much over the past two seasons, mostly for defensive reasons as he sometimes struggles on that end. James, though, always is more comfortable when playing with shooters, one of the reasons Ray Allen has been such a good fit with the Heat over the past two seasons.
“The space James provides and his ability to shoot the ball is great for us,” James said. “You can’t do both when he’s out on the floor. You can’t help on my drives and contest 3-pointers on him. They have to keep an eye on him.”
Jones came in for nine minutes in garbage time in the fourth quarter of the Nets’ Game 3 victory on Saturday after the Heat were down by double digits, his first extended time in the series. He drilled three 3-pointers in that stretch, two of them off feeds from James.
James’ hints that he wants more of that suggests he’s taken his pleas for Jones to play more meaningful minutes directly to Spoelstra. But the Heat coaches were playing coy when asked about lineup changes before Game 4.
“We’ll find out,” Spoelstra said.
The Heat coach is more concerned about his defense than his offensive-based lineups. The Heat gave up more than 100 points for the first time in the playoffs in Game 3, mostly because the Nets set a franchise playoff record by hitting 15 3-pointers. That is what Spoelstra focused on Monday, trying to get the Heat to not write that off as a fluke shooting performance.
“It’s always an easy crutch in this league [to blame lucky shooting],” Spoelstra said. “You have to decipher what can you do better and harder and then within a seven-game series, what can you adjust. It was tough to figure out what adjustments you need to make in Game 3 when you don’t bring other things that are necessary to our defense first."