MIAMI -- LeBron James twisted in his locker room seat Friday night, clenched his fists to expose his knuckles and searched for the nearest wood structure to strike.
“The best thing about coming out of camp -- I don't want to jinx it, so I'll tell you after the game,” James said. “But you know where I'm headed. Right now, we're all healthy. And if we can make it through the night, that will be perfect.”
The Heat certainly didn't thrive on their way to a 108-87 loss to the Nets in the final tuneup for both teams as they prepare for the start of the regular season next week. But at the very least, Miami did survive the preseason in one piece heading into Tuesday's opener against the Chicago Bulls.
The Heat took measures to ensure as much, with James and Chris Bosh sitting out Friday to allow reserves to get extended playing time. Dwyane Wade had the option of skipping the game as well, but decided to push through his third consecutive preseason game to build on his previous two strong performances. But Wade endured a testy and sloppy performance to finish just 3-of-11 from the field for eight points along with five turnovers in 25 minutes.
Wade's night also included a couple of chippy exchanges with Nets forward Paul Pierce as the two exchanged blows on consecutive possessions in the first half. Pierce raked Wade across the face as he tried to fight through a screen. On the following trip, Wade body-checked Pierce as he tried to get position inside the lane.
If there was anything about Friday's game that resembles the intensity expected when these teams meet for the Nets' home opener in a week, it was the Wade-Pierce clash.
“I got cut a little bit. It's competitive,” Wade said of Pierce, who had 16 points as one of five Brooklyn players to score in double figures. “I'm not going to back down from any kind of competition. And I know that guy is not either. So I enjoy my few minutes of banter with him, um, whatever.”
After the game, Pierce responded as if he didn't even feel Wade's presence the moment they collided in the lane.
“He gave me a forearm?” Pierce said. “Man, I didn't feel it. That wasn't nothing. You see I didn't move. I didn't budge.”
If there were any doubts as to whether the Heat's rivalry with the Boston Celtics would transfer to the Nets following the offseason additions of Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, they've been erased during the two preseason matchups the teams have played over eight days.
Garnett sat out Friday to rest, but Deron Williams made his preseason debut after missing all of training camp with a sprained right ankle. Williams played just 10 minutes, but scored 11 points and knocked down three 3-pointers to set the tone for a night when the Nets shot 63 percent (17-of-27) from beyond the arc. But even Williams cautioned that much shouldn't be made of Brooklyn's two exhibition victories over Miami by a combined margin of 45 points.
“It's the preseason,” Williams said. “If we think we're going to come in and beat Miami by 30 points every time, then we're crazy. We did a lot of good things we can take from this, but saw a lot we can work on. We realize if we play like this, we can have a chance to win every night.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has been pleased with his team's conditioning and development since the start of training camp. But the one area he's consistently raised concerns about has been Miami's struggles to close out to the perimeter defensively and better guard the 3-point line.
“We have four days to get ready,” Spoelstra said. “We've had a productive October, so our guys are looking forward to Tuesday. We need to improve our 3-point shooting defense. We certainly need to re-insure some discipline of our defense, more so than the effort right now.”
Wade, who played in five of eight preseason games, said the only tangible thing he could take away from Friday's tuneup was the chance to get some conditioning work. The Heat will have the day off Saturday and return to practice Sunday, with two days of on-court preparation for Chicago.
“I just wanted to get out there and run around a little bit, and just continue to get my legs into it,” Wade said. “I was aggressive early, but I saw a couple things that didn't go my way, so I took my foot off the pedal. I didn't want to get banged up too much. I will save it for the next one.”