If a playoff series started between today’s Miami Heat and Nets, the Heat would be the favorite to win by a landslide.
The Nets took a 106-93 pounding at the hands of a Heat team that out-worked them at every turn. With sheer brute force, the Heat bullied their way to a win. They grabbed 17 offensive rebounds to the Nets’ four and made more plays on loose balls than the lax Nets.
Not to mention they made Barclays Center sound more like FTX Arena.
“Let’s go Heat” chants rained down on more than one occasion at “The Clays” as if it were located in South Beach. If the Heat are getting home court advantage on the road, imagine stealing a game on their own home turf.
The Heat, after all, may be accidentally tailor-made to slow down the Nets. They do the things the Nets don’t seem to take interest in, like: crashing boards, protecting the ball, playing defense all game and hustling for loose balls.
Those have been the four weak spots for a Nets team that has gotten off to a less than ideal start to a season riddled with championship expectations. The Heat, who made it to the NBA Finals two seasons ago in the Orlando bubble, look more playoff-ready than the Nets right now.
“Too many second-chance opportunities and too many second turnovers,” Joe Harris, the Nets’ new all-time leader in threes made, said. “Again, it’s kind of beating a dead horse, but when the shot margin is as big as it is, it’s really hard to win games against good teams.”
Again, we’re talking about right now. Not in the future. The Nets are a team with 10 new players and are missing Kyrie Irving, who is not with the team due to his vaccination status. The Nets have struggled to compensate for the lack of firepower in his absence.
“I know what you want me to say,” Kevin Durant said when asked what is missing from last year’s high-powered offense. “Yeah we do miss Kyrie. We do. He’s a part of our team, but for the most part, we’ve been generating great shots. We’ve been getting into the paint. It’s just a matter of us knocking them down. I think they’ll come.”
Durant, for example, scored 25 points on 50% shooting from the field. By the time the Nets threw in the towel with 1:34 to go in the fourth quarter, the rest of his team shot just 22-of-65 from the field — a whopping 34%.
Offensive firepower has long compensated for the Nets’ other shortcomings. The turnovers don’t sting so much when you can score 140 points. Losing the rebound margin isn’t the worst thing in the world when you have three players who can’t be guarded one-on-one.
Those shortcomings are now rearing their ugly face.
Rebounding, however, has been the Achilles heel for a team that was supposed to have addressed that weakness during the offseason. Here’s a newsflash: Blake Griffin is no longer the glass cleaner he once was and LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap aren’t either.
“Obviously the personnel, if we had a whole bunch of leading rebounders it wouldn’t be an issue,” Steve Nash said. “But since we don’t have that personnel that’s just naturally going to clean up the glass, we’ve got to all come in and gang rebound.”
Gang rebounding doesn’t work, either, against a team like the Heat. Not when you’re gang rebounding with non-rebounders. Three Heat players — PJ Tucker, Bam Adebayo and DeWayne Dedmon — had as many or more offensive rebounds individually than the Nets had as a team.
The Nets’ leading rebounder was Durant (11), who has had to assume virtually all responsibilities for the Nets this season, with no Irving and an out-of-shape James Harden. Durant has led the team as its chief scorer and has stepped in as a more than capable playmaker.
Harden finished with 14 points on just 5-of-12 shooting from the field. He recorded seven assists but turned the ball over four times. Those turnovers don’t hurt as much if he’s playing the basketball the world is accustomed to seeing, but Harden, who is still working his way back from a Grade 2 hamstring strain suffered last season, has been a far cry from MVP caliber.
“This is my fifth or sixth game of trying to just play with competition and play against somebody else,” Harden, who spent the entire summer in rehab, said. “And as much as I want to rush the process and be back to hooping and killing, [I’m telling myself] ‘take your time,’ but this will make me stronger at the end of the season.”
And the Nets are a far cry from championship caliber. They have said it’s going to take time, and that’s true, but the clock is ticking. The games don’t stop coming. And they can no longer hide behind a flurry of offense because that offense, against a good defensive team like the Heat, isn’t strong enough to power them.