Commentary

Threat assessment for Heat? Still low

LeBron and D-Wade make sure Brooklyn Nets are latest upstart to leave with loss

Originally Published: December 1, 2012
By Brian Windhorst | ESPN.com

MIAMI -- The season is a month old and no Eastern Conference team has yet proven it is a serious threat to the Miami Heat.

The Brooklyn Nets looked at Saturday as a chance to make such a statement, albeit one with limited value considering it was the first day of December. Winners of five straight games and looking to make a better accounting for themselves than when the Heat whipped them by 30 points three weeks ago, the Nets had momentum and sought some credibility.

"We owe [the Heat] one," Andray Blatche said Friday night after the Nets won in Orlando. "And everybody in this locker room knows that. So we want to go in with an attitude."

Brooklyn did, playing with focus and determination while building a 12-point lead in the first half. When it was over, though, the Heat had a 102-89 victory and a sixth straight win. They had some nice words for the Nets, but generally they went into the Miami night unburdened.

"Are they legitimate?" LeBron James said. "They have a good team, they will be."

Right now, that is all the Heat have on their plates: potential contenders.

The Boston Celtics' new look has them seventh in the standings. The Philadelphia 76ers don't want anyone to even ask about Andrew Bynum anymore. The Chicago Bulls are waiting on Derrick Rose's knee. The Nets have two double digit losses in Miami already.

The New York Knicks have a 20-point win over an uninspired Heat team a month ago, which is the only blip on the radar, but they're currently missing three key players. A referendum will come next week when the Knicks make their first visit to south Florida.

Meanwhile, the Heat are going merrily along at 12-3. They openly give off the impression they're constantly operating at three-quarters speed and will wait to see if opponents interest them.

Down by eight to the Houston Rockets with six minutes to play? Down by seven to the Milwaukee Bucks with four minutes left? Down to the Cleveland Cavs by seven points with less than two minutes? Down by nine to the Phoenix Suns without Dwyane Wade? Down by five with two minutes left against the San Antonio Spurs missing their top six players?

The Heat won all of these games and there didn't seem to be all that much luck involved, unless you consider Ray Allen hitting several wide-open clutch 3-pointers as lucky. It seems that when the Heat decide to step on the gas, there's still not much most opponents can do about it. Especially against their foes in the East.

Saturday the Heat seemed prepared to float well into the second half even as the Nets were coming at them but the officials got in the way. Several calls that didn't go to the Heat's liking -- which doesn't take much, it must be said -- and it sure seemed to fire them up more than the Nets' winning streak.

First, coach Erik Spoelstra drew a technical for complaining about a missed foul on Wade. Then after James thought he got fouled twice on the same possession, he barked at the officials, even though he ended up with a basket and a foul when the play was over. Anger at the officials turned out to be the evening's motivator of choice.

From then on, it was a different game. The Heat turned up their defensive pressure. After scoring just one point in his first 14 minutes, James took off on his way to 21 points, nine rebounds and six assists. And Wade just went to all-out attack mode, putting up 34 points on a Nets team that was fancying itself as one of the league's best on defense.

After scoring 45 points and shooting 52 percent in the game's first 20 minutes, the Nets managed 44 points on 41 percent shooting with 12 turnovers in the last 28 minutes. Or the minutes played after Wade and James got angry.

"We don't like to get kicked," James explained. "But we find a way to make enough plays to defend and execute offensively."

These routine bouts of malaise have driven Spoelstra crazy at times early on. But he knows with his veteran and accomplished team he can't go to the whip at this point in the proceedings. The Heat are getting by just fine, partially because of the competition and partially because they're simply loaded and relatively healthy.

"I think we're just as good as them," said Nets forward Gerald Wallace. "We were in the game until we pretty much started having unforced turnovers and giving them easy baskets. Other than that, I felt like we controlled this game."

The Nets didn't have Brook Lopez because of a foot injury and that was a factor, though they got 20 points and eight rebounds from Blatche as replacement. And perhaps Wallace is correct, later on the Nets could prove they're on an even par. That's the plan of the Celtics, Knicks and Bulls.

But for now, the Heat sure seem to be a bit bored waiting on it.

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