MIAMI — The Nets certainly don’t want to make it a habit, but their “bounce-back factor” after a humiliating loss kicked into high gear Friday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Two days after being embarrassed and forgetting how to play defense in New Orleans, they regained what they would like to be their consistent identity in a 111-87 pummeling of the Heat.
Just a week earlier, they followed a bad loss at Toronto that began a three-game losing streak with a blowout win over the Wizards in which they led by as much as 40 points. This time their lead reached a high of 38 points in the third quarter and their bench outscored the Heat reserves 55-27.
The defensive mentality Nets coach Kenny Atkinson asked from his players took hold. The Nets (13-22), who snapped a three-game losing streak, held the Heat (18-17) to 33.7 percent shooting and a miserable 11.5 percent (3-for-26) on three-pointers.
“As upset as I was with our defensive performance against the Pelicans, we just turned the tables,” Atkinson said. “It was a complete turnaround. Even at halftime, you know the Heat are going to come out with a lot of energy, and we responded again. We didn’t real ly have that bad quarter defensively.
“I think now the challenge for us is can we do it more consistently? Is this going to be sporadic or more consistent? That’s what we’re searching for.”
The Nets didn’t look too resilient at the start of the game when Miami scored the first eight points on the way to an 18-8 lead and Hassan Whiteside had his way in the paint. But the Nets’ second unit entered and everything changed. They scored 13 unanswered points to begin a 27-5 run that extended well into the second quarter and produced a 35-23 lead. That stretch included 11 points from Joe Harris and great leadership from point guard Caris LeVert.
“That was really big for us, kind of set the tone for the rest of the game,” Harris said. “Kenny’s got a lot of confidence in us on [offense], but what he emphasized was us picking up the defensive intensity, making it tough on them, and I thought we did a good job of that.”
Atkinson said the first unit did the right things defensively but the Heat made tough shots early. “We stuck with it,” he said. “We didn’t panic . . . I didn’t panic, luckily, because you could say, ‘Here we go again.’ Just to understand that our energy was in the right place and our guys were in the right place, I felt like it was going to turn.”
Whiteside re-entered the game and the Heat chipped the deficit down to five points, but the Nets’ starting unit fashioned a 22-7 run, including 12 points from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, to reach halftime leading 59-39. That marked the fewest points allowed by the Nets in the first half this season, and their 20-point halftime lead was a franchise record in 58 trips to Miami.
A 9-2 Nets surge to open the third period pushed their lead to 27, and the Nets built a 38-point lead at 93-55 near the end of the third period.
Harris topped the Nets with 21 points. Hollis-Jefferson scored 18, rookie center Jarrett Allen had 12 points and nine rebounds and LeVert had 12 points and 11 assists. Josh Richardson scored 19 for the Heat and Whiteside added 17.
“I think it was just intensity,” LeVert said of the difference. “We came out with great effort, blowing up handoffs, contesting every shot, boxing out. That discouraged them because we kept doing it. We were consistent with it the whole game.”
Sounds like a plan for the future.