Hassan Whiteside leads stingy Heat defense into Brooklyn


Consistency has become elusive for the Brooklyn Nets (7-17) lately after another lackluster performance against the Orlando Magic on Monday night. Done in by poor shooting (38.8 percent), sloppy play (17 turnovers), and non-existent defense (53.9 percent shooting from the Magic), the Nets inevitably fell 105-82 after being outscored 53-37 in the second half. On a “Jedi Brook” bobblehead night, Brook Lopez had perhaps his worst performance of the season (4-of 15 shooting, 11 points) while struggling to defend Nikola Vucevic (18 points).

“I definitely take responsibility for this one. I felt I was a complete negative for our team,” Lopez said. “I kind of let us down and pulled us back. I definitely need to be better and I can be. It was very frustrating.”

The entire team has been in stop-and-go mode the past ten games. Since losing two in row in Oklahoma City and Cleveland, the Nets have won two, lost two, won two, before losing the past two games against the Clippers and Orlando. So they should win tonight, right?

The Miami Heat (14-9), winners of two in row after a 100-88 win in Atlanta on Monday, will try to send the Nets to their third straight loss. Currently tied atop the Southeast Division with Charlotte, the Heat have been thriving on defense in the early season ranking second in the NBA in points allowed (93.6) and field goal percentage against (42 percent). The Heat lead the NBA in blocks per game (7.2) led by league leader Hassan Whiteside’s 93 blocks; DeAndre Jordan’s 61 is a distant second.

While Dwyane Wade (18 points per game) and Chris Bosh (17.7 PPG, 8.4 rebounds per game) remain the offensive leaders on the team, ex-Net guard Gerald Green has provided a boost to the Heat’s scoring: 16.3 PPG off the bench the past three games. A prominent bench contributor for the Phoenix Suns the past two years, the 29 year old Green is averaging 11.1 points for the season.

After sweeping LeBron James and the Heat in the regular season series (4-0) during the 2013-14 season, the Nets dropped all four games to them last season. Wade averaged 27 points in three games and missed one due to injury.

Point guard Goran Dragic, who had his tooth knocked out by an Al Horford elbow during Monday’s game (while somehow being called for a foul) is expected to play tonight.

Forward Josh McRoberts (general soreness) and rookie guard Tyler Johnson (shoulder) are questionable to play tonight.

What to watch for: Block Party! Hassan Whiteside, a free agent at season’s end, has become a prominent subject of trade rumors lately with names like Dwight Howard and DeMarcus Cousins even being mentioned in return. Meanwhile, his lead leading four blocks a game is on pace to become the highest rate since Dikembe Mutombo swatted 4.5 per game back in the 1995-96 season. In an 88-84 win over the Nets on January 4th, Whiteside opened eyes with a 10-point, 11-rebound, five-block performance in Miami; easily his most impressive showing in the league to date.

Brook Lopez’s 50 blocks through the first 24 games ties him for fifth in the NBA.

Tip-off is at 7:30 EDT at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.