Dismal Nets host red-hot Heat

Dragic, Waiters
(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Opponent: Miami Heat
Time: 7:30
Location: Barclays Center
TV: YES Network
Radio: WFAN

The Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets were, at one point, tumbling along at the same pace in the Eastern Conference standings, and the former’s 9-19 record was marginally better than Brooklyn’s 7-19 mark. However, that seems like ages ago considering where the Nets are right now as Brooklyn has been bludgeoned to the cellar with a 2-16 record since mid-December. Miami had been relatively close until a recent four-game winning streak, all capped off by a Dion Waiters buzzer-beating three-pointer against the league-juggernaut Golden State Warriors on Monday. The Nets most recent victory was an offensive explosion last Friday against the Pelicans where Brooklyn scored 143 (!) in a 29-point blowout win. That ended an 11-game losing streak for the lowly Nets and they’ve since started a 2-game losing streak — it was good while it lasted, right?

Brooklyn played host to the San Antonio Spurs Monday night and even without Kawhi Leonard, Pau Gasol, and Tony Parker, the Nets stood no chance, dropping a 112-86 snoozer. Brooklyn couldn’t contain Patty Mills (20 points in 20 minutes) or LaMarcus Aldridge (16 points in 19 minutes) and continued to look outclassed even with San Antonio missing their best player and starting point guard. Brooklyn, as currently composed, doesn’t stack up to an actual contender’s bench even when missing four key contributors. Harrowing.

Isaiah Whitehead was the Nets’ leading scorer with 19 off the bench, the performance, of course, came on the heals of the news that Jeremy Lin would miss another 3-5 weeks due to a setback with his hamstring. Elsewhere, Spencer Dinwiddie chipped in 13 points off 6-9 shooting to go along with 2 assists and a turnover. It’s at least encouraging to see the Nets exhibit some semblance of depth at the point guard spot with Lin out for the foreseeable future.

Miami comes into the contest red-hot and they’ve knocked off four straight opponents, two of them viable contenders in the Western Conference. The Heat’s victory against the Houston Rockets kick-started the win streak and it culminated with Waiters’ heroics just a few days ago. Their next six games are all against Eastern Conference opponents, so if they want to make a playoff push this season, it might have to happen now for Miami.

3 Things to Watch for in Nets-Heat:

1. Waiters Island
Dion Waiters has shouldered the load for Miami with two 33-point games in their last two victories. After the win against the Warriors he proclaimed, “this is my city.” While he may have been living in the moment — hey, does he not remember a guy named Dwyane Wade? — the Heat have been his team the last two games and he should continue to see the lion’s share of the responsibilities tonight. The Nets will hope to slow down the surging Waiters with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Randy Foye, who have been getting most of the burn at the 2 for Kenny Atkinson.

2. Brook? Bojan?
The Nets’ two top guns contributed very little during Monday’s blowout loss to the Spurs’ second stringers. Lopez scored 12 points but grabbed just 4 boards in 19 minutes. Bogdanovic scored just 5 points, well below his season average of 14. These two serve as the Nets’ offensive backbone as well as the team’s top two trade candidates. Whether or not these two are long term fits in Brooklyn, they need to play well. With the trade deadline about a month away, they could benefit from a string of nice efforts starting tonight against Miami.

3. Matchup Nightmare: Hassan Whiteside
At 7’0, Hassan Whiteside is the kind of dominant glass-eating center that can absolutely doom the Nets. Whiteside ranks first in the NBA in rebounding (14.2) and the Nets’ best rebounder is the 6’8 Trevor Booker. Nobody on the Nets stacks up physically to the hulking center, opening the door for what could be a massive night for the 100 million dollar man. Whiteside is the kind of building block the Nets would love to have and his ability to dominate games with his size is something that cannot be taught. If Sean Marks can land his own D-Leaguer-turned-superstar, perhaps the Nets can turn around their fortunes sooner rather than later.