LeBron James and the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat have defeated all but one of 29 opposing teams at least once this season, with the lone exception being the Brooklyn Nets.
Miami could be without Dwyane Wade again as it tries to finally solve the Nets, who visit South Beach seeking their first season sweep in 11 years Tuesday night.
The Heat (53-23) have come up just short in all three meetings against Brooklyn (42-34), falling 101-100 on Nov. 1, 104-95 in double-overtime Jan. 10 and 96-95 on March 12. Miami has been outrebounded by an average of 8.0 boards during those defeats while scoring 96.7 points per game, down from its season mark of 103.0.
"All we have to know about Brooklyn is we haven’t beaten them this year, including the preseason," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said after Sunday’s 102-91 win over New York.
The Heat, who entered this season having taken 13 straight from Brooklyn, haven’t been swept in the series since dropping all four meetings in 2002-03.
"It’s not only against LeBron, it’s when you play against the best," Nets forward Paul Pierce told the NBA’s official website after scoring 29 points in last month’s victory. "This is the class of the league. This is the two-time defending champions and we’re coming down the stretch. These games are big."
Miami has won five of six after getting by the Knicks. James led the way with 38 points for the Heat, who moved one game ahead of Indiana for first place in the East after the Pacers lost later that night.
Miami found a way to get it done despite an impressive shooting display from J.R. Smith, who made 10 of 22 from 3-point range.
"We’re going to be in situations like that in the playoffs pretty soon, and the trick is just to stay confident and stay with what you’re doing," Chris Bosh said. "It’s a difficult thing to do, but we’re getting good preparation for it right now, it’s good practice."
The Heat, who battled back from an early 16-3 deficit, appeared to be bickering with one another in huddles throughout the game.
"Verbally spitting at each other, I like it," Spoelstra said. "That’s what we need to get ready for the second season."
The Heat would also love to see Wade back in action. The 10-time All-Star has missed the last six games with a strained left hamstring, leaving his status for Tuesday unclear.
Brooklyn is coming off its fifth win in six games, 105-101 at Philadelphia on Saturday. Deron Williams led six Nets in double figures with 19 points and Mason Plumlee scored 16 off the bench as the Nets snapped a three-game road skid.
Kevin Garnett added 10 on 5-of-6 shooting, playing 13 minutes in his first game back since missing more than five weeks due to back spasms.
"It looked like 18, 19 years ago," coach Jason Kidd said. "He understands what this time of the year means."
So do the playoff-bound Nets, who plan to take it easy with Garnett. The former All-Star is not expected to face Miami as Brooklyn opens a back-to-back.
While Pierce is averaging a career-low 13.5 points, he’s been terrific against the Heat with 23.7 per game.
Brooklyn is 33-7 when scoring at least 100 points compared to 9-27 when it doesn’t. Miami is allowing just 86.6 per game during its last eight.