Wake-up call blares for Miami Heat

James had 28 points -- his most in the series thus far -- but to illustrate where his mind was, he took just six shots combined in the second and third quarters after scoring 16 points on seven shots in the first quarter.

"Obviously, I felt great in the first quarter," James said, "Obviously, [the ball] didn't tend to find my hand after that."

Had this been a truly meaningful game, you can safely assume James would had made sure it found his hands and it wouldn't come down to role players. But he was perhaps a little too content to let the game play out instead of imposing his preference. Same went for Dwyane Wade, who didn't play poorly and scored 20 points, but he, too, didn't show much willingness to wrest control away from the Nets.

There are times when Heat coach Erik Spoelstra surely wants to stomp around to make a point during the long season, especially when he can sniff a loss coming, as he did leading into Game 3. But he learned long ago that isn't the best way to go with this team.

He sounded the alarm that the Heat had gotten away with languishing a little in Game 2 and then bailing themselves out with a great fourth quarter. The best method with the Heat is often to just let them have a short-term failure and then reprise the approach to more willing ears.

"We said coming in if we played a similar game that we did in Game 2, we wouldn't be able to win it on the road. "It was not a consistent effort in Game 2. It was very similar tonight, and the shots didn't go in and you see the results change."

It's a hard sell when it's been 11 months since a team has tasted a playoff defeat. The Heat had been living on an eight-game playoff winning streak dating back to last postseason's Finals. That can dull the warnings.

Naturally, there will be some modifications before Game 4. From the Heat's perspective, they might want to keep a closer eye on Mirza Teletovic. He's 14-of-24 on 3-pointers in his past four games against the Heat, dating to the final regular-season meeting in Miami in April. After making six 3-pointers in Game 2, he came back with four more in Game 3.

Spoelstra might also encourage his players to better mentally prepare for the environment in Brooklyn, which doesn't have a great playoff reputation yet, but the Heat have made four visits to the building, including the preseason, and have lost all four times.

More than anything, though, the time has come for the Heat to stop living the outlier life and join the playoff party. They've been putting this off for months now. Some delaying circumstances have worked out nicely for them -- some earned on their own and some just fortune -- but they must get into the truly hard work of trying to repeat as champs again. Their playoffs have started.

"This is a series now," James said. "I've been part of a lot of series. I understand it's never won in two games."

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