Moke Hamilton, SNYNets.com
NEW YORK — On the day that Brook Lopez became the only Brooklyn Net to make the NBA’s Eastern Conference All-Star team, he was the only member of his team to look the part. He scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Nets, but he was probably the team’s lone positive in an otherwise dreadful loss to the defending NBA Champion Miami Heat.
The Heat beat up on the Nets for the third time this season and Deron Williams—who was limited with flu symptoms—and Joe Johnson were both conspicuously absent. The duo combined to score just 25 points and shoot 8-for-24 from the field.
In the end, it was LeBron James who lit up Barclays Center on Wednesday night and it was he that led his Miami Heat to a 105-85 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.
James owned the night, and obviously, that shouldn’t strike anyone as a surprise. Brooklyn is, after all, Kings County.
James zigged and zagged his way to 24 points and assured that the 49-all tie at the game’s half would be a distant memory come the fourth quarter. He made good.
James was his usual MVP self and he set the tone for his team in a dominant third quarter that the Heat won 36-14. A game that was tied at 49 heading into the half was over by the start of the fourth.
“I think we are just disappointed in ourselves,” Lopez said after the game. “We really just let this one get away. We felt we were playing great ball up until midway through the third.”
Deron Williams, who scored just nine points and turned the ball over six times, sounded disappointed, as well. “We hoped to come out and put a better effort out against these guys,” he said after the loss. “With how close we are in the standings with them and a chance to gain a full game and try to prove we could play with them. We just didn’t do that today.”
In a tumultuous season in which the Nets have struggled to compete with the elite teams in the conference, these types of drubbings need to quickly become a thing of the past.
In all fairness, the Heat are the reigning NBA Champions and top team in the NBA’s Eastern Conference.
But in all fairness, the Nets shouldn’t have needed more incentive to put forth a better second half performance after James accused the team of quitting on former head coach Avery Johnson. Reggie Evans even went as far as to throw some words at the Heat before the matchup and even he was no-show. In 20 minutes, Evans had just six rebounds, none on the offensive end. He failed to score, as well.
What’s worse is that the New York Knicks defeated the Orlando Magic at Madison Square Garden and have gained another game on the Nets in the race for the Atlantic division title.
The Nets have crept back into the division winner conversation after putting forth a spirited run under P.J. Carlesimo, and even after the loss, the team is 13-5 under its interim head coach. Still, on the season, the Nets are just 10-19 against winning teams.
Losing to the Miami Heat is okay. Being dominated by them is not, especially considering the Heat entered Wednesday night’s game with a mediocre 10-10 road record.
The Nets may be able to overcome poor outings from Williams and Johnson and beat the likes of the Orlando Magic and maybe even the Indiana Pacers, but if the Nets hope to be able to compete with their intra-city rival New York Knicks, much less the mighty Heat, they’ll need more consistent production from the team’s $40 million backcourt.
It’s a team game and in today’s NBA, it takes a triumvirate to win.
Lopez has done his part. Williams and Johnson need to do theirs and not just some nights, every night.
In the end, the Nets simply weren’t able to match the intensity and effort that the Heat played with in the game’s decisive third quarter.
A statistic that’s often indicative of effort is rebounding and entering play on Wednesday night, the Heat ranked dead last in the league. As a team, they’re collecting just 39.5 rebounds per game. The Nets entered play on Wednesday ranked 16th in the league, grabbing 42 total rebounds per game.
But on Wednesday, the Heat won the battle on the boards, 38-34. LeBron James hauled in as many as Reggie Evans and Joe Johnson combined.
James was clearly fired up for his first and only visit to Barclays Center this season. Even Dwyane Wade noticed.
“I let LeBron do his thing,” Wade said after the game. “I know he is un-guardable. If he is excited and has a good feeling about the game, then I know it will be a very good night. He makes everyone else have opportunities and he did a good job setting the tone.”
No doubt, Lopez is honored to be representing the Nets at All-Star Weekend in about two weeks, but between now and then, the Nets have seven games to play. Five of those seven games will come against teams with winning records and the two that the Nets “should” win on paper are on the second night of a back-to-back and the third game in four nights, respectively.
Lopez may be the team’s only all-star, but if the Nets are to follow their successful January with an equally productive February, it will be up to the other members of the team, mainly Wiliams and Johnson, to step up their level of play when the competition gets fierce.
When Lopez packs his bags for Houston, he’ll be the only Net representing Brooklyn. And that’s fitting. Through 46 games, he has been the lone consistent star for Brooklyn.
If the Nets are to fulfill their potential, that’s something that must change. And soon.