(Photo Credit: Jesse Garrabrant)
The Miami HEAT host the Brooklyn Nets Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Both teams enter on five game winning streaks. Tip off is set for 7:30 PM; coverage starts at 7 PM on Sun Sports.1.The Nets currently have the seventh best offense in the NBA. In their first meeting against the HEAT, they weren’t able to get anything going. Does that change tonight?
Couper Moorhead: I kept waiting for the Deron Williams drive-and-kick game to get going in that first matchup, but it never quite materialized. The Nets still struggle with their floor spacing at times – a big reason why Jerry Stackhouse has been getting late-game minutes, as he can shoot the corner three – and they haven’t always made the second or third pass that offenses need to beat Miami’s defensive rotations. A few weeks more of playing together should help, though, and even without Brook Lopez, fewer post-ups for him might prove to be beneficial against a defense that feasts on one-on-one play.
Danny Martinez: I doubt the HEAT hold the Nets to an offensive efficiency of 78.1 again. The Nets have nowhere to go but up, and I expect them to. However, I don’t think we’ll see them put up a big number on the HEAT. With Brook Lopez out, the Nets are without their lone above-average offensive big man. The Nets should be more one dimensional, though I guess Andray Blatche or Kris Humphries might surprise us.2.Gerald Wallace missed the first game against the HEAT. What does his presence mean for the Nets’ defense?
Couper: Having someone capable of cutting off-the-ball should help the Nets a ton, especially considering Miami’s recent defensive breakdowns. Wallace isn’t going to spread the floor but I wouldn’t be surprised if he snuck along the baseline for a few easy buckets. And then there’s that whole thing about Brooklyn having a good defender for LeBron James, which is nice, but it still doesn’t solve the issue of how they play James in the pick-and-roll (which should be better without Lopez).
Danny: Few players possess the combination of size and athleticism that Gerald Wallace does. He should help the Nets immensely with his ability to cover LeBron James. Without Wallace, the Nets were forced to play small and James picked them apart in his 30 minutes of action. Between Wallace and Joe Johnson, the Nets will now have to perimeter defenders to check HEAT wing players. The Nets are 6-1 in games Wallace plays. That isn’t a coincidence.3.The Nets are 9-2 in their last 11 games, with wins against the Celtics, Knicks and Clippers. Are they now in the championship contender discussion?
Couper: If they can get their defensive efficiency into the Top 10 and keep it there for most of the season, then we can have that conversation.
Danny: Not yet, but we’re getting there. The Nets have the eighth best net efficiency rating in the NBA, but they’ve played the 11th
easiest schedule in the NBA. If the Nets are in this position in late January, when the schedules should be more balanced, then they’ll be in the discussion. I’ll label them, “wait and see.”4.The HEAT have eked out three straight home games, relying on late-game heroics to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Do you see these games as positives or negatives for the HEAT?
Couper: In the long run, they are positives. It’s frustrating for fans to watch games where the HEAT should technically be leading by double-digits at a minimum, but gaining the confidence they are now in absolutely thrashing teams in the clutch is going to pay dividends. That the defense that been otherworldly in the last five minutes of close games should tell you all you need to know about the defense right now. It’s not consistent, but it is consistently great when there is a real threat of losing – it’s not as if the HEAT’s defense has an exposed weakness, as some have suggested.
Danny: It’s November. The HEAT aren’t playing perfect basketball, but they’re winning games. They have the fourth best efficiency differential while playing the second hardest schedule in the league, so it’s not like we should be sounding any alarms. These close games have given the HEAT a chance to work in different late-game sets and lineups. I think that’s a positive going forward. Also, there is a benefit to having things to work on. This recent home stretch should give Coach Spoelstra plenty to work on.5.If the game is close at the end, will the Nets be the first team to stick to Ray Allen?
Couper: Somebody has to, don’t they? It’s getting pretty incredible how people keep forgetting where Allen is on the floor. Then again, the more likely scenario is they start keying in on Allen too much, Spoelstra uses him as a decoy and James gets an open lane to the rim. During the regular season, at least, teams can have the tendency to compensate in extremes from game-to-game.
Danny: Someone eventually has to, right? Three teams have now fallen victim to Ray Allen daggers late in the fourth quarter. Defenders keep drifting off Allen as he shuffles along the perimeter and LeBron keeps feeding him. Whether it’s CJ Watson, Joe Johnson, Deron Williams or Keith Bogans on Allen late in the game, you know Nets coach, Avery Johnson, will be telling them to stick with number 34.