The Brooklyn Nets (27-18) will face their toughest test yet Wednesday night when they host the defending champion Miami Heat (28-13) at Barclays Center. The Nets have an 11-3 record in the month of January and will break their record for the best January ever with a win in this game. They are also coming off of a home win against the lowly Orlando Magic. Even though Miami is in first place in the eastern conference, this year hasn’t been as easy for them as some people expected. Miami is only 7-5 this month and is coming off of a double-overtime loss to the Rondo-less Celtics. They are also only 10-10 on the road this season, while the Nets are 17-7 at home and haven’t lost in Brooklyn since Christmas. The Nets should have a chance to win this game.
These two teams have already met twice this season, with both games being blowout Heat wins in Miami. However, the Nets were somewhat shorthanded in both those games. In the first loss, they did not have Gerald Wallace to guard Lebron James and in the second, they did not have Brook Lopez, who has been their most consistent player this year.
The Heat have lost some games this year due to lack of interest and not caring. That will be not be the case tonight. Miami is excited to play in Brooklyn for the first time, especially because their Big 3 were all recruited to join the Nets back in 2010. This will be their first opportunity to see what they missed out on.
The keys to this game for both teams will be rebounding, 3-point shooting, and fast breaks. Miami is one of the poorest rebounding teams in the NBA, mainly because they don’t have a true center or a player who really “likes to rebound” (they can sure use a guy like Reggie Evans). Offensive rebounds have led to some easy baskets for their opponents this year and hopefully Brook Lopez, Reggie Evans, and Kris Humphries will be able to get some easy points in this game. 3-point shooting will be another thing to watch. Miami’s role players take lots of 3’s and when their shots are falling, this team is nearly impossible to beat. The Nets will have to prevent easy looks from Miami players and make the role players take uncomfortable shots. Perhaps the biggest issue for Brooklyn will be stopping the fast break. Lebron James and Dwyane Wade love running the break and the Nets have had trouble stopping faster teams this year. It will be important to force Miami to play in a half-court offense.
Injuries: Toko Shengelia will miss this game for Brooklyn, but he probably would not have played anyway. The Heat don’t have any significant injuries. This will be the first time the Nets have been healthy against the Heat this year.
Deron Williams vs. Mario Chalmers. Advantage: Williams
In Deron’s last two games, he has scored a combined 33 points in the first quarters, but not much after that. In order for the Nets to win this game, he will need to have a complete, 48-minute game where he is hitting his open looks and finding Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson so they can get their looks. Even though Mario Chalmers is technically the point guard of this team, Lebron and Wade will be running the show. Chalmers is pretty much just a spot-up shooter and he shoots 40% from 3. This will help Miami spread the floor if nothing else.
Joe Johnson vs. Dwyane Wade. Advantage: Wade
At 31 years old, Dwyane Wade is clearly in the second half of his career and is only averaging 21 ppg this season, his lowest amount since his rookie year. He is also averaging less assists and rebounds than he typically gets, but is shooting a career high 51% from the field. Even though he may not be quite as quick as he used to be, he is still a very good player and is capable of scoring 30 on any night. It will be important for Joe Johnson to shut down Wade so that the rest of the Nets can focus their defense on Lebron James. Offensively, JJ has had some quiet games recently. The Nets will need him to step up in the fourth quarter if this is a close game.
Gerald Wallace vs. LeBron James. Advantage: James
Lebron has proven time after time that he is the best player in the world and his numbers support that this season: 27 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists. He is capable of scoring 40 or having 15 assists any night and in order to stop Miami, teams have to make a decision: should we try to stop Lebron or the rest of the Heat players? My suggestion to them would be to stop the rest of the team. Lebron is unguardable, but not selfish, so he will always try to get his teammates involved, even in situations when it is best for him to take over. Although it may be tempting to double-team Lebron, that is what he wants and he will find teammates open for 3’s if you play him the wrong way. Luckily for Brooklyn, Gerald Wallace is as healthy as he will ever be and is still one of the best on-ball defenders in the league. He will do everything in his power to contain Mr. James.
Reggie Evans vs. Udonis Haslem. Advantage: Evans
Haslem will split time at the power forward position with Shane Battier. When Haslem is in the game, Reggie should have no problems, but he will have problems with Battier, a spot-up shooter. If Battier is in the game, expect Reggie to be on the bench. Miami is one of the worst rebounding teams in the league, so this has a potential to be a Reggie Evans monster rebounding game. The question will be how much playing time he can get.
Brook Lopez vs. Chris Bosh. Advantage: Lopez
After Monday night’s Brook Lopez Appreciation Night game, Lopez realizes that he was as big an all-star snub as anybody in the league. He will have a chance to prove that he is an all-star tonight against the player that might have taken his spot in the game, Chris Bosh. Although Bosh’s numbers aren’t terrible, they aren’t what they should be: 17 points, 7 rebounds per game. Bosh has essentially turned into a jump-shooter this year and hasn’t been very aggressive to get into the paint at all. He does have a very good mid-range jump shot, so Lopez needs to make sure he doesn’t leave Bosh open.
Prediction: Heat 104, Nets 98.
Unfortunately for Brooklyn, Miami is excited to play in this game and they are going to show up. Just last night Lebron James tweeted that he was excited to play in Brooklyn, which is a bad thing for the Nets. Because Miami won the championship, they don’t always give their best effort in meaningless games, but they will care about this one. Mikhail Prokhorov will be in attendance and Lebron’s friend Jay-Z probably will too. I anticipate the Nets hanging around in this one and they won’t be blown out, but it is hard to imagine them winning this game.