The Miami Heat players found themselves in a strange position Saturday night. Miami had won five straight games, but had struggled to defeat bad teams - the Milwaukee Bucks, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the San Antonio Spurs' "B" team. Moreover, Miami faced a revamped Brooklyn Nets team that built an 11-4 record and beaten the Los Angeles Clippers and New York Knicks, two teams that shellacked the Heat.
The first half didn't go so well - more on that later. Miami faced a 59-50 deficit at halftime, but held the Nets to just 19 points in the third quarter. The Heat tied the game with 3:20 left in the third with a Dwyane Wade breakaway dunk. Eight seconds later, LeBron James came with a steal and made a fast-break slam of his own. On Miami's next possession, James went to the post and found an open Wade curling to the basket, and the two-time NBA champion dunked the ball with both hands. After the Nets came up empty on the other end of the floor, James delivered a perfect pass to Mike Miller for a 3.
Brooklyn played even worse offensively in the fourth period than in the third, scoring only 11 points in 12 minutes. The Heat held on, winning 102-89. Miami overcame a 14-point deficit, the biggest comeback of the season.
Wade played his best game of the season, scoring a season-high 34 points on an incredibly efficient 14-of-20 shooting from the field and dishing out seven assists. The 6-foot-4 guard from Marquette was spry, always taking his man off the dribble to get to the basket. He converted on a nice alley-oop from Ray Allen midway through the fourth quarter after Udonis Haslem came up with a steal. Wade also scored 16 in the first half, keeping Miami from suffering a bigger lead. James didn't register his first field goal until midway through the second, and Chris Bosh had one of his worst games of the season.
Bosh didn't grab a board in the first half, losing a lot of rebounding battles to Andray Blatche, who had underwhelmed in his NBA career before this year -- and that's putting it mildly. Erik Spoelstra benched Chris Bosh in the fourth quarter in favor of Udonis Haslem, who had seven rebounds in 22 minutes. The Nets dominated the glass in the first half and broke down the Heat defense with good ball-movement, finding the open player time after time. The 38-year-old Jerry Stackhouse had nine points in the first half.
James finished with 21 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field, nine rebounds and six assists. In one second-quarter sequence, the three-time MVP rebounded two of his own misses on a fast-break before making a tough layup over Gerald Wallace and Jerry Stackhouse. Miami ran the offense through James in the post during the third quarter, and he punished Wallace, one of the better defenders in the NBA.
Off the bench, Ray Allen scored 13 points on 5-of-7 shooting and came up with a nice steal that led to a breakaway Norris Cole layup. Cole himself added a season-high 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting and three steals. In addition to Bosh, Spoelstra also benched Mario Chalmers in the fourth. Cole played admirably, competing against Deron Williams and knocking down jumpers and layups on offense.
The Heat will try to move 10 games over .500 Tuesday in Washington, D.C.