MIAMI — It’s the payback period of Miami’s season.
Entering Feb. 21, there were just four teams in the NBA the Heat hadn’t beaten. That night they got revenge at Chicago, winning 86-67 to make up for an earlier loss at home.
On Friday night, the victim was Memphis, which had walloped the Heat by 18 points in November. The Heat got back at the Grizzlies, winning 98-91 at AmericanAirlines Arena for their 13th consecutive win.
On Sunday, the Heat are at New York, which has beaten them by 20 points in games home and away this season. Then on March 10, the Heat play host to Indiana, which has beaten them twice by an average of 11.5 points.
“It’s always good to even the score out,” said Miami forward LeBron James. “We’re a team that loves going against teams that beat us before and just see where we are.”
So James, not surprisingly, was fired up for Friday’s game. But the surprise was he had his worst shooting night of the season.
James started out a disastrous 1-of-9 before finishing 4-of-14 for 18 points. He had a meager four points entering the fourth quarter before he was able to extend his streak of scoring in double figures to 475 games, the sixth-longest in NBA history.
“You just feel out of rhythm when you’re not making shots you’ve been making all year,” James said. “But you don’t get discouraged when you’re out there. When I don’t make shots, I know I can do other things to help our team.”
James did that by totaling 10 assists and eight rebounds to nearly have a triple-double. But the game was still a letdown after James had shot a staggering 64.1 percent and averaged 29.7 points in February. The last day of the month featured the Heat releasing a “Harlem Shake” video that had James at the forefront and has gotten more than 7 million hits on YouTube.
James’ 28.6-percent marksmanship tied a 4-of-14 game at Orlando on March 18, 2012 for the worst shooting game in his three years with the Heat. But when the game was on the line, James didn’t hesitate.
With the Heat (42-14) clinging to a 90-89 lead, he drilled a staightaway 3-pointer with 24.2 seconds remaining. His final shot of the night put them up 93-89 and was the game’s biggest.
“I’m taking it and I’m confident I’m making it,” James said.
Since when has James not been confident? He could have been 0-of-13 at the time and it wouldn’t have mattered.
“When the ball found his way, he didn’t hesitate and that’s what great players do,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra.
Spoelstra had spent February trying to come up with new superlatives to describe James, whose incredible month included becoming the first player in NBA history to have six straight games with at least 30 points while shooting 60 percent or better.
It’s now March, and James didn’t get off to the best of starts. But the Heat still won yet again.
“We always find other ways,” said Miami center Chris Bosh. “I know he’s the best player in the world, but we are the best supporting cast.”
Among those helping out Friday were guard Dwyane Wade, who scored a team-high 22 points, and forward Shane Battier, who had 14 points off the bench while shooting 4-of-5 from 3-piont range. Battier, a former Memphis player who returned after missing one game due to a hamstring strain, made a pair of key 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.
The Grizzlies (38-19), who got a game-high 24 points from center Marc Gasol, give the Heat problems with their big front line. Memphis is now 3-2 against Miami since the Big Three of James, Wade and Bosh joined forces. After having beaten the Heat 104-86 in Memphis on Nov. 11, they almost frustrated them again.
“We’re disappointed that we lost,” said Memphis guard Mike Conley, whose team came in with an eight-game winning streak in the first NBA game between teams with streaks of eight games or longer since December 1993. “We thought we had a very good chance of winning this one.”
Instead, it was the Heat getting revenge and having what is now the longest winning streak of the Big Three era. On Sunday, they’ll try to tie the longest one in team history, set in 2004-05.
Could there be a better place for the Heat to try to do it than against New York, their biggest rival? They were thrashed by the Knicks 104-84 at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 2 and lost to them 112-92 Dec. 6 at home.
“Just to beat the Knicks (is key Sunday),” Bosh said. ‘Winning streaks come and go. But most importantly we have a chance to see them in the postseason… We don’t want them to have a ton of confidence if that possible scenario matches up… Not only do we need to beat them (in Miami on April 2), we need to beat them on their floor (Sunday)… We have an opportunity to get them back.”
Yes, payback is pivotal for the Heat. They want to make sure there’s no NBA team this season they don’t defeat.
“We like to do that,” Wade said of retaliation. “We’ve played a few teams (like that). Chicago was one (in the second game following the All-Star break). Coming out of the break, there were a couple of teams that have beaten us and obviously we’d like to get those wins.”
So stay tuned for Game No. 3 on the Heat’s revenge tour Sunday. That could set up Game 4 against the Pacers the following Sunday.