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Thursday, January 31, 2013
Motivated LeBron torches Nets

By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com

NEW YORK -- Reggie Evans said just nine words to a single reporter Wednesday morning. It was dismissive and competitive but just his personal opinion.

It was enough.

"It doesn't prove nothing, that was a lockout season," Evans said to the New York Daily News about the Miami Heat's championship last year.

When LeBron James heard the comment about an hour later, he was mildly annoyed. By the time he was back in his hotel room and saw how it was being portrayed on television and the Internet, he was downright angry. He fired off a tweet about it, and when he arrived at Barclays Center, his mood was elevated.

"Yep, he's here!" James yelled loudly in the direction of the Nets locker room as he strode into the arena, a Snoop Dogg song buzzing out of his headphones.

LeBron James
LeBron was all smiles in Brooklyn.

The Heat have had battles with motivation this season. There are nights, especially on the road, when they struggle to get their collective energy up, no doubt due to a hangover from last season's title and the product of a generally weak Eastern Conference that hasn't pushed them very often.

They've played just fine: They're in first place, have three All-Stars and -- after Wednesday's 105-85 victory in Brooklyn -- Erik Spoelstra is a win or a New York Knicks loss away from being named Eastern Conference All-Star head coach.

But they haven't played inspired very often. Even in numerous games that could be considered "big." Sunday's loss in Boston, where the Heat pretty much ditched their offense in the second half and missed a chance to deal a blow to the Celtics as they lost Rajon Rondo for the season, was just the latest example.

Heading into Wednesday's game against the Nets, who had won eight in a row at home and had put themselves into contention for a high seed with a great January, the Heat were three games behind their pace from last season at the season's midpoint. They were just 5-7 on the road against teams with winning records.

But once James and the rest of the Heat caught word of what Evans had said, there was no chance they were going to take the game lightly. And once again they showed what they can be when they're focused and motivated.

They ran the Nets out of the building for one of their most complete and dominating road performances of the season. James and Dwyane Wade took turns attacking on offense, they shot the ball extremely well thanks to ball movement that led to open shots, they were aggressive in forcing turnovers and they played with an edge that they've broken out only a few times since the playoffs last season.

Maybe that would've happened anyway had Evans not made that little comment. But it sure seemed to be kind of kick-starter the Heat seem to need this year to get energized.

"It did [motivate]," James said. "You can't just come out and say something like that versus a champion."

In the middle of ripping Evans after the game, James stopped himself and said he regretted giving the workmanlike Nets forward so much attention.

"You'll probably talk about him for a few days now when you wouldn't have," James said.

Frankly, though, James might owe him a thank-you letter. He was so interested in showing up Evans in the first quarter -- James scored nine quick points -- that he seemed to set the tone for the entire team.

"I enjoy when he gets like that," said Wade, who had 21 points. "When he really wants to play, and he's really excited about it, I know it's going to be a fun night."

At some point this season, the Heat are going to become self-motivators. Erik Spoelstra has tried numerous things to drag that out, the latest being to point out that the official arrival at the 42nd game meant his team should start to get into a more consistent mode.

Perhaps that will work. There shouldn't be difficulty getting up for Friday's game in Indiana, a legit rival who beat them handily a few weeks ago. But there's no telling with this team, this season.

Maybe they will, maybe they won't.

"We showed what we're capable of," James said. "Defensively, offensively, we had the whole package."