In the biggest game of the season thus far, the Brooklyn Nets beat Division leading Toronto at home on Monday night. The season series ends in a two-two tie and the Nets are 2.5 behind the Raptors for the Division lead. At 32-30, the Nets are only 0.5 games behind the Wizards for the fifth seed.
Waiting for the Nets this Wednesday evening will be the back-to-back NBA Champion Miami Heat. It doesn't happen very often, but the Heat have been in a slump recently. Miami has lost three out of their last four games, including a #BEATEMDOWN to San Antonio on Thursday. Miami did the Nets a solid on Monday, beating fifth seeded Washington 98-90. More importantly for Miami, they're right on the heels of Indiana for the best record in the East and San Antonio for best record overall.
Surprisingly, the Nets are 2-0 vs. Miami this year. They held on to beat Miami back in November and topped them in double overtime in January. We should note that those games were in Brooklyn and Miami is extremely difficult to beat at home.
The season so far
What's up with these teams? Let's check the numbers:
Offensive Rebounding percentage
Free throw rate
Effective Field Goal percentage
Opponent Effective Field Goal percentage
Do we start worrying about Kevin Garnett now? He missed his fifth straight game on Monday and won't be in Miami for this contest. With Garnett out of action, Mason Plumlee and Andray Blatche will have to step up. Plumlee has been progressing nicely throughout the year and will face a great challenge against Chris Bosh. As for Blatche, he's had an inconsistent season and will have a tough time dealing with Miami's backup duo of Chris Andersen and Greg Oden.
Joe Johnson has been playing well over the past week and change. During that time period, he's hit 12 three pointers and shot well from the field overall (the Celtics game was the only clunker in that time). He's also had two tremendous games against the Heat this year, including 32 in the second meeting.
Deron Williams has done a good job managing possessions this half, and that'll be crucial if Brooklyn wants to get the win. He wasn't at 100 percent when the teams met in November and didn't play in the January contest. He'll be dealing with Mario Chalmers, a point guard that isn't one of the league's best but a solid contributor nonetheless. He's a feisty defender that will look to play the passing lanes and hound Williams throughout the game. Chalmers isn't someone that can consistently get his own shots in a half-court set, but doesn't need to when he's alongside Wade, James, and Bosh.
He's been in a slump (by his standards), but LeBron James is still having an incredible season. LBJ is averaging 27 points, seven rebounds and 6.5 assists a game. He's always gotten praise for his shooting efficiency, and this season has been more of the same as James is shooting a career high 57.3 percent from the field. James has always shot well from the floor, and his field goal percentage has increased for the seventh consecutive season. He's struggled with his jump shot over the last week, but he's proven himself to be enough of a jump shooter that you have to respect him when he's out on the perimeter.
Going into the season, I wrote this about free agent acquisition Michael Beasley:
With that as the backdrop, Beasley returns to Miami with no expectations placed on him. As it stands right now, he's behind the sparingly used three point marksman James Jones on the Heat depth chart. On this roster, his defensive shortcomings will be hidden so he can focus primarily on his scoring abilities. If he manages to get playing time with the Big Three, he should receive plenty of open looks as defenses will rightfully place their energy into slowing them down. Miami's spacing should allow for him to drive to the basket, where he's shot close to 60 percent in the restricted area for the past four seasons.
Through three quarters of the season, Beasley has done the job coming off Miami's bench. In 16 minutes a night, the second overall pick in the 2008 Draft is averaging eight points on a career high 50.5 percent from the field. He's also shooting a career high 44.7 percent from three point range, but outside of the game against Houston when he took seven three pointers, hasn't consistently taken many three pointers. The Heat are six points worse per 100 possessions defensively with Beasley, but from the outside looking in, it appears that Beasley is making more of an effort defensively as compared to previous years. Also, having Beasley has helped due to Ray Allen experiencing injuries and a poor (relatively speaking) shooting season.
The Nets have been really bad on the glass lately, and luckily for them, Miami isn't great on the glass either. The Heat, like the Nets, are at the bottom of the league in rebounding, collecting only 47.3 percent of the available rebounds on the floor. These teams are also similar in that they force a lot of turnovers. These are the top two teams in opponent's turnover rate, forcing teams to cough it up over 19 percent of the time. Ball management is always important, but the Nets have to be even more careful than usual because you can't give away possessions against the league's best offense.
Player to watch: Dwyane Wade
The rest strategy has appeared to pay off for Miami and Wade. Early in the season, the Heat made the decision to rest Wade on the second half of back to backs & against the crappy teams. The goal of this plan is to keep Wade healthy for the playoffs (more specifically, the Eastern Conference Finals and NBA Finals) and it looks like it's paid off for the Champions.
What has Wade done in the 45 games he's played in? In 33.5 minutes a night, the ten time All Star is averaging an impressive 19.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists a game on a career best true shooting percentage of 59.2. He's taken the fewest amount of field goals and free throws per game since his rookie season, but that's to be expected as James is the better player to have lead your offense. Even though he's settled into being the second option on Miami, he can still carry your offense for an extended amount of time and make big plays late in close games.
In writing about Wade, Hot Hot Hoops' Isaac Koppel noticed something interesting. He writes:
Not only is Wade's FG% from the midrange significantly higher than at any other point in his career, he's also taking more shots from that area. His shot distribution (below) shows that Wade has taken 38.58% of his shots from the midrange this season, versus 33.85% last season. Assuming that Wade keeps up this pace, defenses will be forced to play tighter on him, which should allow him to blow by defenders or draw fouls, which opens up a variety of other options for the Heat on offense.
Wade is always tough to handle, and he becomes even more difficult when your team is not at full strength. With Andrei Kirilenko's status for this game up in the air, Shaun Livingston figures to start off on Wade (you could argue Livingston should start off on LeBron but I think Johnson's size will lead to the early James assignment). Wade will look to get to the basket early and get Brooklyn's depleted frontcourt into foul trouble. Livingston, Johnson, Marcus Thornton, etc. will have to keep Wade on the perimeter if they want to pull off the upset. While Wade is a better shooter than he's sometimes given credit for, you can live with bank shots from 15 feet instead of dunks and trips to the free throw line.
From the Vault
Head on back to 2004 and see if Dwyane Wade can help the Heat top the Indiana Pacers in Game 3 of the Conference Semifinals.
More reading: Hot Hot Hoops
- Brooklyn Nets Game Notes -- Brooklyn Nets
- Miami Heat Game Notes - Miami Heat
- Nets-Heat Preview - AP
- Brooklyn hits its stride heading into Miami - Michael Wallace - ESPN New York
- Nets keeping cool as Heat loom - Mike Mazzeo - ESPN New York
- Starting Five: Can the Nets win the Atlantic? - Mike Mazzeo - ESPN New York
- Starting Five: Takes a team to stop LeBron - Mike Mazzeo - ESPN New York
- Surging Nets set for a huge battle in Miami - Tim Bontemps - New York Post
- Kevin Garnett out vs. Heat, Kirilenko questionable - Rod Boone - Newsday
- On home court, Nets floor foes - Stefan Bondy - New York Daily News
- Nets: Deron Williams and company expect Heat's best shot - Andy Vasquez - The Record
- Streaking Brooklyn Nets will test Miami Heat, especially on the boards - Miami Herald
- Nets had Heat's attention, now they have rest of NBA's - Ira Winderman - South Florida Sun-Sentinel
- Can Greg Oden fit into the Miami Heat offense? - Ira Winderman - South Florida Sun-Sentinel
- 5 Questions with NetsDaily on Miami-Brooklyn - Matt Pineda - Hot Hot Hoops