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Back at Barclays, Nets welcome Heat

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Brooklyn Nets

I know is is a game preview and my job here is usually to briefly update you all on what happened in the last game and then look ahead to the next, but I’m going to take a minute to talk about Caris Levert because nothing else in the Nets world is as important at the moment.

Watching Caris develop into a budding star this season was not only fun, it didn’t only bring more wins to the record and joy to the game; it was an affirmation of everything the Nets have been building over the last few years. He was the first one to hit, the one that put the work in and got the results he, and all of us, wanted.

His weird, herky-jerky post moves started turning into buckets and his drives began to feel controlled. He knows how to knock down a big three. Caris is a weapon on the court in so many different ways. And also a sweetheart who has dealt with injuries his whole career. Those minutes following his injury, when the arena went silent and Ryan Ruocco and Sarah Kustok could hardly muster anything to say was some of the most brutal television I’ve ever watched. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson crying was just embodiment of everything I was feeling at the time.

This Nets team has not been lucky with injuries. Not for a long time. It sucks, and it makes being a fan even more excruciating than it already is at times. But Caris is strong and the news is the best we could hope for. Plus, the Nets have the most comprehensive infrastructure in the league to deal with something like this, with access to the best doctors and surgeons and coaches and trainers any recovering player could ever need. He’s going to work hard, and he’s going to recover. Simple as that. I have no doubt in my mind.

The Nets host the Heat on Wednesday and I think it’s a pretty damn good time for a statement win. Let’s get into it.

Where To Follow The Game

YES has this one at 7:30. WFAN as well.

Injuries

Besides the obvious one, Treveon Graham is still out dealing with a hamstring issue. Jarrett Allen is questionable with something contagious and Dzanan Musa is still on Long Island, drilling jumpers and getting in the lane. He’s averaging 21 points a game is one of the G League’s youngest players.

For the Heat, Dwyane Wade is out due to the birth of his daughter. That’s adorable and also congratulations. James Johnson is dealing with a hernia and Dion Waiters an ankle issue, it’s doubtful we see either of them.

The Game

Both the Nets offense and defense are going to look significantly different without Caris. Guys like Allen Crabbe, Shabazz Napier, and maybe even Rodions Kurucs are going to have their minutes bumped up in the wake of losing a starter who can play three positions in Kenny Atkinson’s fluid system. It’ll be interesting to see how the rotations fill out.

In the fear-filled aftermath of LeVert’s injury, it’s easy to forget how well D’Angelo Russell played as he single-handedly tried to bring the Nets a win. He hit a career high nine three-pointers and put up a season high 31 points. (DLo now has 37 three-pointers on the season, two more than Joe Harris, and unfortunately, 19 more than Allen Crabbe. Come on, Allen!)

Russell and Dinwiddie specifically looked frustrated and angry and aggressive in that second half, with Dinwiddie even fouling out towards the end of the game. It’s going to be tempting for them to want to go into full Westbrook Mode after their close friend and teammate’s s injury. And honestly, I wouldn’t mind it. This team is going to once again struggle to score when the looks aren’t clean,

Caris has a way of creating something out of nothing, and if D’Angelo wants to play a little hero ball at times I think he should have the leash to try it. Knowing Kenny though, the Nets are going to stick to what they know best: playing hard and shooting threes. Also, Crabbe needs to figure it out like.right.now.

The Heat are deep. They’re led by Josh Richardson who is having something of a breakout year, and nine separate players are averaging over nine points a game including a man named, and I’m serious, Rodney McGruder. I watch a lot of basketball. Like, a lot. And I swear I have never heard of three year player Rodney McGruder. What a weird league. Sometimes basketball is really fun, don’t forget that!

The Nets are going to have to cast a wide defensive net (ha) in order to plug enough holes to stop the Heat in this one. They have a lot of different weapons and even though they’re 5-8, they shouldn’t be taken lightly. Hopefully, ,Allen is feeling better so he can help out trying to contain Hassan Whiteside who’s averaging over 15 rebounds a game. If not, expect Eric Spoelstra to feed the beast.

Player To Watch

I’m going with Rodney McGruder!! I just watched some highlights (how could I not?) and he actually looks pretty solid. He’s putting up 13 points a game on really good shooting percentages and seems to have a solid, versatile, fluid game. By the way, he’s a 6’4 shooting guard who played with Michael Beasley in college and bounced around Summer League rosters, Europe, and the G League until he made his way onto the Heat in 2016, in case you didn’t know (I obviously didn’t). I think I like this dude. Watch out for him Wednesday night.

From The Vault

Being a fan is tough sometimes, but I’m serious when I tell you guys to not forget how much fun basketball can be. The highs, the lows, it’s all part of the ride. Thoughts are with Caris and his family today. And I promise you all, he’s going to be back. He’s our guy.

Enjoy.

For a different perspective, head on over to Hot Hot Hoops, our sister site on SB Nation.