MIAMI - Everything was set, perfectly teed up in a way that probably had the Nets feeling as though they were about to get in 18 holes on a lush South Florida golf course.
They were riding a three-game winning streak and were well-rested. Meanwhile, the Heat faced the tail end of a back-to-back, mentally bruised after a 36-point pasting in Houston a night earlier and mired in a four-game losing streak.
The Heat mauled the Nets in their two previous meetings in Brooklyn, so if anything, a little revenge was supposed to be on the Nets' minds.
They're going to have to wait a few more months for that.
"I thought we were feeling pretty good about ourselves and we had the confidence to come in here and win," Joe Johnson said after a late charge fell short in the Nets' 88-84 loss to Miami at AmericanAirlines Arena Sunday night. "We gave ourselves a chance, but I just thought we beat ourselves a little bit early and we had to fight so hard to get back in it. It was tough."
With Deron Williams writhing in pain on the bench during the final 40 seconds because of what he called a severe cramp in his left side, the Nets fell below .500 at 16-17.
Miami (15-20) has owned the Nets, bottling them up defensively, and there were few times in the Heat's wire-to-wire victory when it appeared the Nets could keep their winning streak going.
Johnson led the Nets with 19 points and Brook Lopez scored all 16 of his points in the second half. Chris Bosh (26) and Dwyane Wade, who had seven assists, totaled 51 points for Miami.
The Heat ran the Nets ragged, particularly in the first half, constantly moving the ball and making them rotate. The Nets were more than a step slow on several occasions and Miami, which led by as many as 11 points, assisted on 12 of its 16 first-half baskets. The Heat's offensive exploits paired with the Nets' offensive struggles -- they shot 39.5 percent from the floor -- had them staring up at Miami all night.
Nevertheless, the Nets somehow were in it at the end. Lopez's jump hook shaved Miami's lead to 83-80 with 1:53 remaining, bringing the Nets the closest they had been since the second quarter.
They couldn't get that big bucket, however, misfiring on their next two possessions. Johnson missed and Mirza Teletovic (14 points) rushed up an ill-advised three-pointer with 1:03 left.
Alan Anderson was called for a foul after Wade's seeming flop on an offensive rebound attempt, and Wade sank the second of two free throws for a 84-80 edge, essentially sealing the Heat's win.
"We stuck with it," Lopez said. "We were 10 points behind the entire game, but we stuck with it. We got a tough group. I think we made all the right plays. I thought Joe got a great look, A.A. got a great look. It went their way. We definitely toughed it out and played hard."
Said Williams: "They are a very aggressive defensive team. I don't think we moved the ball as well as we did against Orlando, but a lot of that is because they are a better defensive team. And we missed a lot of open shots, but we had a chance to win the game. Some unfortunate plays and calls, but that's how the game goes sometimes, especially when you get down 10, 12 points on the road."