Heat’s recent late-game struggles culminate in close loss to Nets

MIAMI — It wasn’t the words so much, rather the expressions and mood in the Miami Heat postgame locker room that indicated the two-time defending NBA champions were well aware of two things: recent late-game struggles and their inability to beat the Brooklyn Nets.

Despite playing without injured forwards Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko, the Nets left AmericanAirlines Arena on Wednesday night with a 96-95 victory for their first win at Miami in nine tries.

The Heat fell to 0-3 against Brooklyn this season, 0-5 if you include the preseason.

"Sometimes you just have matchup troubles with some guys," said center Chris Bosh, who scored 24 points but made a poor inbounds pass on the game’s decisive play. "We just have to continue to try and figure it out, and I think eventually we will.

"We might see them in the playoffs. That’s all we can hope for so we can get a win against them."

Actually, Brooklyn will return to Miami for the teams’ final regular-season meeting on April 8. Who knows where Brooklyn (33-30) will be seeded then. The latest win put them fifth in the Eastern Conference as they battle Atlantic Division-leading Toronto, Washington and Chicago for seeds.

Miami vs. Brooklyn certainly seems like a very possible second-round series.

With Brooklyn improving to 23-9 since Jan. 1, there was nothing embarrassing losing to coach Jason Kidd’s Nets. But when a potential playoff opponent dominates a season series, that could be a major concern, even for a team looking to three-peat.

"They’re a very good team," said LeBron James, who had 19 points but five turnovers. "They exploit mismatches, they got a lot of guys that can beat you of the dribble, and they share the ball."

Heat vs. Nets

Miami was beaten twice at Brooklyn — by a point in the third game of the season and in overtime Jan. 10 — before losing on Wednesday night. It was the Heat’s first defeat in seven home games.

"The two games in Brooklyn … all three games … no energy, and lack of concentration," Shane Battier said. "In this league, I don’t care who you are playing against, if you don’t bring those two things, energy and concentration, you’re going to get beat. It just happened to be the same team three times for us."

Paul Pierce scored 29 points to spark Brooklyn, which also got 17 points from 6-foot-9 reserve Mirza Teletovic.

"This is the class of the league. This is the two-time defending champion and we’re coming down the stretch," Pierce said. "These games are big."

The Nets won the game by outscoring Miami 12-1 in second-chance points and by playing tough defense.

"They have good size and individual defenders at the perimeter positions," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "Those guys have proven themselves during their careers."

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Besides size, the Nets are adept at switching and picking up loose offensive players.

"Which can zap your offensive energy," Battier said. "You have to have real concentration on moving the ball after a switch.

"If you have concentration, you can really destroy the switching. But it takes energy, which we’ve been lacking in the three games."

The other big issue in Wednesday night’s game also surfaced in other recent games — Miami’s inability down the stretch. The Heat have dropped four of five, which included close defeats at Houston and Chicago.

"Each game (against the Nets) was a close game," said Dwyane Wade, who scored 22 points. "We just haven’t done a good job finishing."

Prime example: Bosh’s attempt to feed James on an inbounds play with 3.5 seconds remaining.

James broke down the lane, but Brooklyn’s Shaun Livingston got a hand on the ball and knocked it away.

"I threw it to where he was instead of were he was going," Bosh said. "Shaun Livingston, he’s 6-9 with long arms, got a hand on it. And that was it."

The Heat players seemed to understand their late-game issues have been more than poor inbounds plays.

"We are not getting our guys in their situations," he said. "I think we need to have LeBron catching the ball where he’s a threat, Dwyane catching the ball where he’s a threat, and me catching the ball where I’m a threat."

True, but another thing seemed obvious: Brooklyn will be a threat to derail Miami’s title hopes should the two teams meet in the postseason.

You can follow Charlie McCarthy on Twitter @mccarthy_chas or email him at mac1763@bellsouth.net.