Brooklyn goes for the season sweep against the Heat

Mike Ehrmann

That almost went south. The Nets built a big lead against the 76ers on Saturday, but had to fight them off in the final minutes and were able to come away with a 105-101 win. At 42-34, the Nets are solidly in fifth place and unlikely to have homecourt advantage in the first round. They're 2.5 games behind both the Raptors and Bulls and 2.5 games ahead of Washington.

Despite all the bluster that came out of Indiana, the Miami Heat are still atop the Eastern Conference. At 53-23, the Heat are up one game on the Pacers for best record in the East. At various points, the Heat have been accused of taking games off and not caring about the regular season. That may or may not be true but it says a lot about a team that they can "coast" to the best record in the Conference while their biggest rival is collapsing, coming off of a #BEATEMDOWN that's created the question as to whether the Pacers should try to avoid the Atlanta Hawks in the first round.

These teams have played three close games, and Brooklyn has won all three. The Nets won the first meeting by one point, the second in double overtime, and the third meeting by one point. This is a national TV game and will air on TNT at 8 PM. Both of these teams are on the first half of a back-to-back. Brooklyn travels to Orlando after this game while Miami will visit the Memphis Grizzlies, who are one game behind the Suns for eighth seed in the Western Conference.

The season so far

What's the story with these teams? Let's check it out:

2013-2014

Brooklyn

Miami

Record

42-34 53-23

Pace

93.74 93.46

Offensive Efficiency

104.7 109.6

Defensive Efficiency

104.5 102.5

Offensive Rebounding percentage

21.6 20.7

Turnover rate

15.1 15.7

Assist rate

16.8 18.3

Rebound rate

46.9 47.7

Free throw rate

31.2 30.3

Effective Field Goal percentage

51.4 55.6

Opponent Effective Field Goal percentage

50.6 50.5

It looks like the Nets will be headed to the postseason at full strength. Kevin Garnett is back and had a good game against the 76ers. However, he'll sit this game out and play in Orlando on Wednesday night.

Noted Heat antagonist Paul Pierce will look to have another big game against the Champions. This year,he's averaging 23.7 points per game against the Heat with a true shooting percentage of 71.6. Things will change a bit now that Shane Battier isn't in the Miami starting five. He'll have to work harder on the glass but should have a bit more room to operate on offense. Pierce hasn't  played over 30 minutes since March 26 in Charlotte, and depending on how this game goes, he might go past it. If he does, it'll have an effect on how many minutes he plays the next night in Orlando. When he has James covering him, that will create an advantage for Joe Johnson.

Dwyane Wade hasn't played since he strained his hamstring in Indiana. With the Heat working throughout the year to make sure Wade is 100 percent for the playoffs, I doubt we'll be seeing him for this contest. Assuming Wade sits this one out, Toney Douglas will start in his place. Ray Allen isn't injured, but he is flying back into town after watching his Connecticut Huskies beat Kentucky in the National Championship game on Monday evening.

As per usual, LeBron James is playing at an extremely high level. On the year, James is averaging 26.8 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.8 assists in 37.4 minutes a night. He's always been hyper efficient from the field, and he's shot at least 50 percent from the field for ten straight games. He isn't shooting as many from three point range as he did near the end of his Cleveland tenure, but LeBron has worked the three pointer back into his arsenal. The big difference now is that he's way more consistent, as his 37.6 percent from deep is above his career average. If there's any possible way to slow LeBron down, it might be to force him to stay on the right side of the court (I know, easier said than done). When we look at his shot chart, we see that he's far less effective on the right side as compared to the left. I wonder why that is. The Nets will throw a variety of people at James in the hopes that he doesn't have a dominant game. Look for Shaun Livingston, Joe Johnson and Andrei Kirilenko to get extended opportunities covering LeBron.

These teams are similar in a couple of  categories. Both of these teams are really poor on the glass, and they are both in the bottom of the league in rebounding (second and fourth worst in fact). However, they both make up for it by forcing a LOT of turnovers. These are the league leaders in forcing turnovers and ball management figures to play a key role in this game. They're also above average from three point range and feature marksmen from deep. Brooklyn employs Mirza Teletovic and Marcus Thornton while the Heat counter with Ray Allen and Mario Chalmers.

The games between the teams have been intense and sometimes chippy, and with certified old man Udonis Haslem (meant with the highest of praise) back in the rotation, this one should be very physical.

Player to watch: Chris Bosh

Quiet as it's kept, Chris Bosh has been having a pretty solid season. The big guy is averaging 16.5 points and 6.7 rebounds in about 32 minutes a night. The big change for Bosh has been the frequency in which he attempts three pointers. He has a history of making big shots from deep in the postseason, and this year he has made 35 percent of his career high 205 attempts from three point range. At full strength, the Heat are the most dangerous offense in the league. And with the added dimension Bosh brings, they become even harder to slow down. At the All Star Break, here's what Jason Patt wrote about Bosh over at the mothership:

Despite Bosh's continued excellence and Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra's perpetual insistence that Bosh is the team's most important player, the 29-year-old seems to be under-appreciated by fans. People see a goose egg in the score column in a Game 7 of the NBA Finals, and they ask how that player can still be considered an elite player.

But make no mistake, Chris Bosh is still a great player and would almost certainly garner a max contract if he hit the market this summer. While some people care to focus on that zero-point effort in Game 7, the real focus should have been on his dynamite defensive performance. And although Bosh's rebounding numbers have dipped in recent years, it was his offensive rebound that led to Ray Allen's season-saving three in Game 6.

Bosh may not be the best or most productive big man in the Association, but he's highly productive, doesn't fuss about his role, is always looking to improve on his game and is reliable on offense and defense late in the game. He sounds like the perfect player to have on your team.

David Thorpe of ESPN thinks Mason Plumlee should model his game after Bosh, and that's an excellent person to model yourself after. Bosh works well within any offense, can carry your team for an extended amount of time, works hard and has earned constant praise from his teammates for his unselfishness.

Plumlee figures to have a hard time defending Bosh. In the last meeting, Bosh had 24 points and two made three pointers. He'll draw Plumlee away from the basket which should help Haslem on the glass. He's critical to their defensive success, but he'll be at a size and strength disadvantage when Andray Blatche checks in. Bosh is a terrific defender so that disadvantage may not hurt him that much (nor will Blatche's jump shot tendencies). Blatche sometimes makes bad decisions with the ball, but he's been having a career year as it relates to ball control.

#BigShotBosh #BigShotBosh #BigShotBosh #BigShotBosh #BigShotBosh #BigShotBosh...

From the Vault

With the news that he's been elected to the Hall of Fame, let's take a trip back to Game 6 of the 2006 Finals and see some of Alonzo Mourning's contributions. You should also read this excellent retrospective on 'Zo by David Ramil of Hot, Hot Hoops.


More reading: Hot Hot Hoops

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