State of the Heat: Sustaining excellence

There are pictures on the wall at AmericanAirlines Arena of impressive moments in Miami Heat history. How about putting up one of Wednesday’s box score?
 
Or, more specifically, the third-quarter box of Miami’s 105-85 win at Brooklyn.
 
For anybody doubting the Heat continue to be the team to beat in the NBA, check out the magnificent 12-minute stretch at the Barclays Center. The Heat completely throttled a pretty good team, outscoring the Nets 36-14 to break away from a 49-49 halftime tie.
 
The third quarter was a thing of beauty. The Heat shot 65.2 percent to 41.7 for Brooklyn. They forced the Nets into eight turnovers while committing only one themselves. The ball movement was fluid. The Heat, usually one of the NBA’s worst rebounding teams, won the board battle 9-4 in the quarter.
 
“When we’re playing at a high level, that’s what we’re capable of doing,” said Heat forward LeBron James, who shot 4-of-5 and scored 10 of his game-high 24 points in that impressive quarter. “We were a really good team in the third quarter. We were very explosive in the third quarter. We had an extra bounce and a second wind.”
 
So that brings up the question: Why don’t the Heat (29-13) play more often the way they did in Wednesday’s third quarter?
 
Obviously, no team regularly can sustain that pace. Still, there has been too much uneven play by a Miami outfit that was supposed to roll this season to the Eastern Conference title and win a second straight NBA crown. With the Heat having begun the second half of their season Wednesday, they’ve got a skimpy 1½-game lead in the East over New York and three teams in the West (San Antonio, Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Clippers) have better records.

“Do we ever like it easy? Nothing has ever come easy to us in the three years we’ve been together,” James said of having joined forces on the Heat with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in the summer of 2010. “And we don’t like it that way. I don’t know why.”

The Heat often need to find ways to get motivated. On Wednesday, it helped that Nets forward Reggie Evans had told the New York Daily News that Miami’s championship last season “doesn’t prove nothing” because “that was a lockout season.” Evans backtracked Thursday, saying those weren’t his exact words and he “never downplayed” Miami’s title.
 
Still, the damage had been done. James said the comments fired him up, and the Heat took a 30-20 lead after the first quarter.

The Heat went into another malaise in the second quarter, being outscored 29-19. But they then showed in the third quarter just how beautiful this team can be to watch when firing on all cylinders.
 
“The thing about this group that’s been true for the entire time that we’ve been together is there’s a maturity that our group will own. We were not pleased with the way we played up in Boston,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, referring to a 100-98 double-overtime loss last Sunday to a Celtics team without injured star Rajon Rondo that started a four-game trip. “We knew we had to correct some things without any drama. Correct and fix it and let’s do it better the next game. The same thing happened with the second quarter. At halftime, all we talked about was the focus on being more efficient.”

Wednesday’s lopsided win was impressive in that it came on the road. The Heat had entered the night with a pedestrian 10-10 mark away from AmericanAirlines Arena, including having dropped five of their previous seven to East teams.
 
“We want to get better on road, not get worse,” said guard Dwyane Wade, who shot 4-of-6 for eight of his 21 points in the decisive third quarter.
 
The win over the Nets (27-19) was a great way for the Heat to show they are determined to correct their road woes and sometimes lackadaisical tendencies in the second half of the season. But will it last?

The Heat play Friday at Indiana, where just three weeks ago they had one of their worst games of the season. They were outrebounded 55-36 and trailed by as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter before losing 87-77 on Jan. 8.


With the Pacers (27-19) just four games behind in the East, Friday would be as good of a time as any for the Heat to produce another box score that is a work of art.
 
Who’s Hot: It’s all relative, but 6-foot-10 forward Rashard Lewis gets props for actually contributing in recent games. Following 11 straight games of not playing due to coach’s decision, Lewis has gotten a call in seven of the past eight. He’s averaged 5.0 points in those games over 11.0 minutes while shooting 7-of-18 on 3-pointers (38.8 percent). Lewis shot 2-of-3 from long range for six points in 15 minutes Wednesday against the Nets. “Rashard’s size and versatility, whether playing him at (small or power forward), that group has given us a good look,” Spoelstra said.
 
Who’s Not:  Forward Shane Battier’s usually potent 3-point shot has abandoned him. Over his past nine games, Battier has shot just 4-of-27 (14.8 percent) from beyond the arc to drop his seasonal percentage from 42.4 to 37.5. He’s averaged just 1.6 points during the stretch, never scoring more than three in a game. At least Battier’s defense hasn’t been taking any nights off.
 
Three Thoughts
 
1. If Brooklyn’s Evans did indeed devalue the Heat’s title, it’s not the dumbest thing he’s done in his 11-year career. During the 2006 playoffs, while playing with Denver, Evans grabbed the private parts of then-Clippers center Chris Kaman. He was assessed a $10,000 fine. As for his latest foray into the spotlight, those affiliated with the Heat were both disgusted by the comment and got some amusement out of it. “I thought there was drug testing in the NBA,” Heat radio announcer Mike Inglis quipped on the air about Evans during Wednesday’s game.
 
2. The Birdman had his flight time moved up Wednesday, and it proved to be good news for the Heat. Center Chris Andersen, playing just his second Miami game after signing a 10-day contract Jan. 20 and getting a second 10-day deal Jan. 30, was inserted for 6½ first-half minutes against the Nets. Andersen made the most of the opportunity, totaling three points, four rebounds, a steal and a block when the game mattered. He played three-plus minutes of garbage time in the fourth quarter and added another rebound to his stat line. “I warned him (earlier in the day) in the elevator, ‘Just be ready for a couple of minutes,”‘ Spoelstra said of his surprising early insertion of Andersen, who had gotten in for just garbage time when he made his Jan. 25 Heat debut against Detroit. It would be a surprise if Andersen doesn’t sign for the rest of season when his second 10-day deal expires.
 
3. If his hometown Chicago Bears were in the Super Bowl, it would be no problem for Wade. But they’re not, and a dilemma has surfaced on whom to root for in Sunday’s game. Wade is very close to Tom Crean, who is married to Joanie, the sister of Jim and John Harbaugh. Crean was Wade’s coach at Marquette and is now at Indiana. “I’m torn,” Wade said about whether he’s pulling for Jim’s San Francisco 49ers or John’s Baltimore Ravens. “I’m Team Harbaugh, man. Knowing those guys, they obviously came around a lot when I was in college. They spent some time with us at the Final Four (when Marquette was there in 2003). I’m supportive of both, and I’m happy for them.”
   
Quotes of the week
 
“I had a kid run on the floor in New York at (Madison Square) Garden and give me a hug after I had 50 (points)… He ran on the floor, beat all the security and gave me a hug, and that was awesome.”
 
James, asked about his best moment ever in New York and referring to a March 6, 2008 game with Cleveland when he had 50 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists against the Knicks.
 
“I’ve actually thought about doing that a couple of times. But I was like, ‘Nah.’ He really did it, though. I had to laugh. That was a good one. I was actually watching that game.”

Bosh, on Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook jumping up at the rim to grab two over-the-head halfcourt shots from Denver mascot Rocky at a Jan. 20 game. Any time Rocky makes such a shot, fans get free queso at a local restaurant, so it wasn’t surprising Westbrook was booed loudly.
 
“I think LeBron forgot where he was. It was one of those things were he thought he was a fan watching. He just hugged him and tackled the guy.”
 
Heat guard Ray Allen, on James tackling fan Michael Drysch in a fit of joy last Friday after he made a halfcourt hook shot that earned him $75,000 and another $75,000 going to charity in a contest promoted by Carmex on James’ website.
 
“His energy and his motor are going to really help us. As he continues to get in game shape… he’s going to be really good for us.”
 
James, on Andersen, who hadn’t played in an NBA game for 10 months prior to making his Jan. 25 debut with the Heat.
 
Numbers game

 
35: Arenas James has played NBA regular-season games in after adding Brooklyn’s Barclays Center to his collection Wednesday. “I’m a little upset it’s our only appearance of the season,” James, a 10-year veteran, said after his first visit. “It was great. It’s a state-of-the-art arena. They got big-time players. They got a great crowd. You can’t ask for any more.”

6: Consecutive NBA seasons, including this one, James has raised his field-goal percentage. Since 2006-07, James’ percentages have gone from 47.6 to 48.4 to 48.9 to 50.3 to 51.0 to 53.1 to this season’s 54.8, which is in line to be a career best.
 
0: Combined number of free-throw attempts and offensive rebounds this season by Miami guard James Jones this season while playing 73 minutes in 17 games. Jones rarely ventures inside on offense.
 
What’s Next?
  The Heat have two challenging road games Friday at Indiana and Sunday at Toronto. Why is the second one challenging? Because the Heat might be thinking more at the 2 p.m. EST start about being ticked off at missing the Super Bowl since they have to fly home after the game. The Heat then have a five-game homestand, which gets underway with games Monday against Charlotte and Wednesday against Houston.
 
Tower of Power? Most definitely. With Wednesday’s blowout at Brooklyn, the Heat look determined to have a less uneven second half of the season. Friday’s game at Indiana will be a test considering the Heat have had some troubles the past two seasons on the road against the pesky Pacers.
 
Chris Tomasson can be reached at christomasson@hotmail.com or on Twitter @christomasson