The Heat fell to the Nets, 88-87, last night – giving Brooklyn a four-game sweep over Miami for the season.
Does that worry LeBron James?
After the game, Craig Sager asked him (hat tip: Ben Golliver of Point Forward):
- Sager: “Are they your biggest challenge in the East?”
- LeBron: “Get out of here, Craig. Next question.”
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LeBron is totally correct, both to dismiss the Nets and avoid motivating the Pacers .
Despite the Pacers’ late-season slide, they’re still the Heat’s toughest competition in the East. Indiana has won 2-of-3 against Miami with a fourth matchup coming Friday. And the Pacers’ were so much better than the rest of the East for so much of the season, a few weeks of poor play doesn’t erase it.
The Nets’ hot streak doesn’t make them likely to upset the Heat (or anyone else in the East), and though Brooklyn winning the season series is a little more telling, it hardly proves anything conclusively – especially against Miami.
In the previous three seasons, the Heat have faced five Eastern Conference playoff opponents they didn’t beat in the regular=season series. Each time, Miami flipped the script (regular season | postseason):
- 2012-13: Pacers 2, Heat, 1 | Heat 4, Pacers 3
- 2012-13: Bulls 2, Heat 2, | Heat 4, Bulls 1
- 2011-12: Celtics 3, Heat 1 | Heat 4, Celtics 3
- 2010-11: Bulls 3, Heat 0 | Heat 4, Bulls 1
- 2010-11: Celtics 3, Heat 1 | Heat 4, Celtics 1
The Nets are probably as threatening to a 53-24 team as a 43-34 team can be. But this hypothetical postseason matchup still features a 10-game difference. Miami needn’t waste time worrying about the Nets, who won thrice by one point and once in double overtime during the season series.
The last thing LeBron and the Heat want to do, though, is motivate the wayward Pacers. Indiana is a tough matchup and geared toward Miami. Lately, the Pacers have been bickering among themselves off the court and slumping on it. But it wouldn’t take much for them to find their way. Chemistry and winning can spiral forward just as quickly as they spiraled backward for Indiana.
So, LeBron implicitly told the truth about the Nets and handled the Pacers publicly the best way possible.