By Ben Golliver
The Miami Heat blew out the Brooklyn Nets 103-73 [RECAP | BOX] at the American Airlines Arena on Wednesday night in the first meeting between the two teams this season. The Heat won all four quarters and quickly turned a solid 9-point halftime lead into a total laugh riot in the third quarter. The Big 3 looked on from the sideline, resting, for most of the fourth quarter.
• LeBron James has said that, when planning to attack off the dribble, he concentrates first and foremost on reading the second line of the defense because he is confident he can beat his individual defender off the dribble. Against the Nets, "reading the second line of defense" could also be written as "looking at a wide open key."
The Heat's much-ballyhooed position-less revolution was an absolute nightmare for the Nets, especially because Brooklyn's most versatile player, forward Gerald Wallace, was sitting out due to injury. The list of resulting match-up problems for Brooklyn were just endless. The Nets' traditional big men -- center Brook Lopez and power forward Kris Humphries -- were forced to follow Chris Bosh and Shane Battier all the way out to the three-point line. Nets guard Keith Bogans, inserted into the starting lineup in place of Wallace, was forced to check either James or Dwyane Wade. Those individual pieces were all problems but the Heat's genius this season is in its "whole is greater than the sum of its parts" unselfish dynamic on offense, which sees spectacularly quick ball rotations and timely isolation plays to pick on weak defenders which seems to produce an endless stream of wide open shots and easy looks.
James had it easiest of all. On a night when he played just 30 minutes, James nearly recorded a triple-double, scoring 20 points on 7-for-12 shooting and adding 12 rebounds and eight assists. The court has never seemed bigger for him than in Miami's current alignment, because it's unreasonable to expect any opposing big man to provide effective help defense on James if he has to collapse from the free-throw line extended or higher. James carved up the Nets like child's play: he either finished in the paint, drew a foul on his defender, or made easy reads when the Nets' big men over-committed. His teammates pulled their weight -- the Heat shot a scorching 51.9 percent from the field -- but this wasn't backbreaking work.
Food for thought going forward: the only options for combating this new Heat offensive approach are...
- Have a dominant rim-protector or a big man blessed with elite mobility and the savvy to stay out of foul trouble to close the court down and force the Heat to play more traditionally.
- Have an offense that's so efficient -- complete with both high-caliber individual scorers and plenty of auxiliary shooting -- that you can hang tough in a shootout.
- Close your eyes and pray that Miami's jumpers don't fall.
The Nets don't qualify on the first two accounts, and number three led to a definitive blowout loss on Wednesday.
• In that vein, the following quote sounded reasonable for all of, well, 16 hours or so.
On Tuesday, Nets GM Billy King said that he constructed his new-look roster with an eye towards toppling the defending champions. "My thought was looking at Miami, because they were the team," King told the New York Times. "I had to build a team that I thought could compete." Wednesday night, King's Nets were flat run off the court by King James and company.
Yes, it's November, but the Nets, who should make the playoffs and possibly advance a series in the East, simply don't seem well-equipped at all to pose a problem for the Heat. The match-up issues discussed above aren't going anywhere and the team's biggest concern, its overall defense, has been worse than feared.
The Nets actually ranked dead last in defensive efficiency on Wednesday after giving up 100 points to the Raptors and 107 points to the Timberwolves before giving up 103 points to the Heat. It's worth noting here that Miami, who finished No. 4 on defense last season, was ranked No. 29 on Wednesday after giving up 100+ to the Celtics, Knicks and Nuggets in their first three outings. Both teams should work their way out of the basement as sample sizes increase, but the Nets, even if they tighten up, don't have answers for Miami's major weapons. Wallace and Joe Johnson can make James work a bit, but that's it. Wade, who finished with 22 points on 10-for-14 shooting, doesn't have an obvious marker. Bosh is too mobile for Lopez and Humphries and too skilled for Reggie Evans. When Miami goes small and adds Ray Allen to the court, the Nets don't have the backcourt depth to keep up.
• The Heat earned major praise and tons of headlines for adding Allen during the offseason. His play, and the fact that he was defecting from the Celtics, earned both the kudos and the attention. Miami's other addition, signing Rashard Lewis for the minimum, clearly flew under the radar by comparison. The move really came to be defined from a financial standpoint rather than a basketball standpoint. Lewis was traded by the Wizards, a non-playoff team, to the Hornets, a non-playoff team, where he was immediately bought out. Set to make an obscene $22.7 million had the buy out not taken place, here he was coming to Miami to chase a ring, willing to settle for $1.4 million. The size of that pay cut, and not the state of Lewis' game, cast his arrival in Miami as a footnote rather than a meaningful addition. On Wednesday, Lewis made it clear that his game hasn't taken the same precipitous drop as the size of his checks. In 19 minutes, he shot 6-for-9 from the field for 13 points, finishing +13 on the night. The Nets were content to give him mid-range looks and he was content to knock them in. At 33, he's six years removed from his peak production but he's still fully capable of filling a limited role that involves hitting open shots, not forcing anything and playing capable defense against bench big men. He fills a hole and, importantly, he fits the versatility-maximizing ethos in South Beach to a T.