By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Nets received a valuable lesson in humility Wednesday night before a sellout crowd of 17,732 at the Barclays Center.
And even an appearance by Brooklyn's-own Miss America, Windsor Terrace resident Mallory Hagan, couldn't take the sting out of the ugly 105-85 loss to the defending NBA champion Miami Heat.
Buoyed by their January surge under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo and riding a season-high eight-game home winning streak, the Nets (27-19) appeared primed to make a strong statement against the reigning titleholders in the third and final regular-season meeting between the teams.
But LeBron James, admittedly ticked off by Brooklyn forward Reggie Evans' claim that Miami's championship was "tainted" because it came during a lockout-shortened 2011-12 campaign, lit the Nets up for 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists as Miami turned a tie game at the half into a runaway victory with a dominating 36-14 third quarter.
"We really just let this one get away," admitted newly minted Eastern Conference All-Star Brook Lopez, who led Brooklyn with 21 points and seven rebounds. "We felt we were playing great ball up until about midway through the third quarter. They got going and we didn't really respond."
After Hagan brought the capacity crowd to its feet by belting out the national anthem, the Nets scratched and clawed their way to a 49-49 deadlock at intermission as flu-ridden Deron Williams hit a step back jumper from the top of the key to give Brooklyn a lift heading into the half.
However, that would be the end of the competitive portion of the contest, which turned into a laugher as the champs outscored the Nets 56-36 over the final 24 minutes.
"When the bubble burst, it burst completely," admitted Carlesimo, whose team fell to 13-5 since he took over for fired coach Avery Johnson in late December. "And we, as coaches, have to prevent that from happening. It's the third time we've played them and we've turned it over 19 times in all three games."
Turnovers aside -- the Nets committed 20 in Monday night's 20-point rout of Orlando -- Brooklyn simply didn't display the moxie necessary to fend off a big run by the champs, who playfully shushed the otherwide boisterous crowd as they headed for the exits early in the fourth quarter.
'They turned up the defense and we just got flustered and couldn't really get anything going," said Williams, who managed just nine points and five assists while turning the ball over six times in 34 minutes.
James, clearly irked by Evans' inflammatory comments, took the Nets to task prior to the game, noting that they should have played harder for Johnson during his ever-so-short tenure as Brooklyn's first coach. Evans himself was virtually invisible during his 20-minute stint, grabbing six rebounds without scoring a single point. "The King" put on a clinic in his Brooklyn debut, hitting 10-of-18 shots, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range, as Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who courted James during the summer of "The Decision" in 2010, watched from his private box atop the state-of-the-art arena.
"We showed them tonight what we're capable of, both defensively and offensively," James said. "The whole package, everything, we had it going tonight.''
Dwyane Wade poured in 21 points and Chris Bosh added 16 as Miami's "Dream Team" improved to an Eastern Conference-best 29-13. Making matters worse, the Knicks beat up on the Magic at Madison Square Garden, moving 2 1/2 games ahead of second-place Brooklyn in the Atlantic Division.
''Guys were motivated tonight," noted Bosh, who helped Miami to its 13th consecutive win over the Nets dating to Nov. 14, 2009 -- the year before James famously took his talents to South Beach instead of the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
Next up for Brooklyn is a visit by the Central Division-leading Chicago Bulls (29-17) on Friday night. The Nets, who are a perfect 17-0 against opponents with sub-.500 records this season, will try to improve on their 10-19 mark against winning clubs.
They'd also like to forget Monday night's embarrassing defeat to the champs, even if it came at the cost of learning a valuable lesson from the best player in the sport.
"I let my game do the talking," James said.
Lopez, who learned just after 5 p.m. Wednesday that he had been named to the Eastern Conference squad as a replacement for injured Boston point guard Rajon Rondo, admitted he was thrilled to be an All-Star for the first time in his five-year career with the Nets.
"It’s a huge honor,” Lopez said in a statement. “But first and foremost, I couldn’t have done it without my teammates -- they make my job 100 times easier. Playing with Deron, Joe [Johnson] and Gerald [Wallace], they gift-wrap me buckets and take a lot of attention away from me on the court.”
Lopez, the only player in the league averaging at least 17 points, seven rebounds and two blocked shots this season, also earned high praise from Carlesimo.
“That kind of recognition has got to feel good,” the interim coach noted. “It’s got to help you from a confidence standpoint. ... I think it’s validating and hopefully it’ll be a positive for him going forward. He should be proud. He should be very proud."
The 7-foot Stanford alum missed all but five games last season due to a series of foot injuries after playing the full 82 in each of his first three campaigns.
“He’s made a commitment," Carlesimo said. "First of all, coming back from the injury and, secondly, in two areas that we asked him to work on: He’s so much better defensively than he was, and he’s making a much more concerted effort to rebound.”
The All-Star Game will be played Feb. 17 in Houston.
“It’s something I’ve been working towards,” Lopez said. “It’s been a goal of mine and it will definitely be an exciting weekend.”
Hoop du Jour: During a pregame press conference in the media room, Hagan intimated that she'd like to move back to Brooklyn once her Miss America obligations are complete. ... Lopez became the 13th player in Nets history to earn All-Star status, following in the footsteps of Buck Williams, Otis Birdsong, Michael Ray Richardson, Derrick Coleman, Kenny Anderson, Jayson Williams, Stephon Marbury, Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Vince Carter, Devin Harris and Deron Williams. ... Wednesday's loss to the Heat was Brooklyn's first at the Barclays Center since a Christmas Day defeat to Boston. ... The Nets were also denied a franchise record-tying 12-win month by the Heat. New Jersey posted 12 wins in December 2003. ... Williams is just 13 assists shy of 5,000 for his career.