Jimmy Butler powering Heat into matchup vs. Nets

Last month, Jimmy Butler endured one of his lowest-scoring games of the season and the Miami Heat were unable to prevent the Brooklyn Nets' Mikal Bridges from scoring a career-high 45 points.

With a scoring outburst of late, Butler is willing the Heat to victories and his hot streak is occurring as the new-look Nets are floundering.

Butler's hot streak has lifted the Heat above to No. 6 in the Eastern Conference heading into Friday's play, and he seeks another strong performance to further push the Nets further down the standings Saturday when the teams convene at Miami for their third and final meeting.

The Heat (40-34) are closing in on the fifth-place New York Knicks and had a half-game ahead on the seventh-place Nets (39-34), who have dropped a season-high five straight.

"Honestly, it's really winning time right now," Butler said.

Brooklyn leads the season series 2-0 and its previous visit on Jan. 8 was a momentous occasion for the direction of the team.

In a 102-100 victory, Kevin Durant collided with Butler in the third quarter, resulting in a sprained medial collateral ligament in Durant's right knee. It wound up being the last game Durant played for the Nets, who dealt him to the Phoenix Suns on Feb. 9, three days after sending Kyrie Irving to the Dallas Mavericks.

When the teams got together Feb. 15, the Nets were in their third game with Bridges and the best game of his career helped Brooklyn to a 116-105 win. Bridges scored 15 in a row at one point in the second half and his big performance occurred while Butler was held to 13.

Since that game -- just the sixth time Butler was held under 15 points -- he has averaging 26.3 points on 60.5-percent shooting, including 52.6 percent from 3-point range. After losing their first two games coming out of the All-Star break, the Heat are 8-5 and Butler has scored at least 23 points 11 times.

Butler produced his fourth 30-point game of the month Wednesday when his 35 helped the Heat pull away down the stretch in a 127-120 victory over the visiting New York Knicks.

"I would say Jimmy is a generational competitor," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "When things really ramp up and there becomes way more consequences and pressure, that's when he's going to compete and play at his best."

The Nets lost in two vastly different ways this week during a two-game series with the visiting Cavaliers.

On Tuesday, the Nets trailed by as many as 24 before making the score respectable in a 115-109 loss. On Thursday, Brooklyn held an eight-point lead with 2:13 remaining but wound up with a 116-114 loss when Cleveland's Isaac Okoro to hit a game-winning open 3-pointer in the final second.

Thursday's defeat came after Brooklyn was not able to secure a defensive rebound on a missed free throw by Donovan Mitchell with 10 seconds remaining.

"It's definitely frustrating," Brooklyn reserve Joe Harris said. "But I think collectively across the board we're obviously aware of where we sit in the standings and the importance of every game here down the stretch."

Bridges scored 32 points Thursday but two came in the fourth quarter when the Nets scored 23 and committed five of their 16 turnovers, including an errant pass by Dorian Finney-Smith with 13.3 seconds left that set up the final sequences.

--Field Level Media

Updated March 24, 2023