Russell may provide boost as Nets take on red-hot Miami Heat

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Photo courtesy YES Network

Time: 7:30 p.m. EST

Where: Barclays Center

Watch: YES Network, FOX Sports GO

Listen: WFAN 101.9, 660 AM

Photo courtesy YES Network

Friday night, the Brooklyn Nets are at home once again to attempt to end their current three-game losing streak against the in-form Miami Heat. The Heat have won eight of their last 10 games, and are currently sitting at fourth place in the Eastern Conference.

The last time these two teams met, though, the Brooklyn Nets easily took care of business in a 24-point victory where seven Nets had double-digit scoring, with Joe Harris leading the way with a career-high 21 points. Just like tonight, the Nets entered that game on a three-game losing streak. 

The big news is that D’Angelo Russell is listed as probable to return from a knee injury that has had him on the sidelines since mid-November. The Nets have fought admirably to fill the void in his absence, most notably with the improved play of Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert, but Russell would be a much-welcomed addition to the squad, especially to help in late-game situations which the Nets have found themselves in a few times over the past two months.

Brooklyn’s next five games, including tonight’s, are against opponents that are currently in playoff contention. With their current 16-29 record, the Nets have slipped below teams like the Chicago Bulls and Charlotte Hornets.

The season is a just over halfway completed and Brooklyn has no incentive to lose, so getting back that winning feeling may benefit the team in many ways. Russell’s return can be that final step to get back on the winning track.

Three things to watch for

1) Point Guard rotation

“Reloading” has been the mantra. It will be interesting to see how Kenny Atkinson and the coaching staff manage the minute distribution with Russell’s return. Will he start with a minutes restriction and move Spencer Dinwiddie to the bench?

The staff could also deploy a similar rotation it had planned before the season began in regards to Jeremy Lin and Russell sharing the court, where both Dinwiddie and Russell can start in the backcourt as Russell plays off the ball. After that, minutes can be staggered between the two, but these are questions that have yet to be answered and will be interesting to watch unfold. 

2) Hassan Whiteside

Fresh off dropping 27 points and 13 rebounds against Milwaukee on Jan. 17, Hassan Whiteside may be looking to continue taking advantage of likely match-ups Tyler Zeller and Jarrett Allen. Brooklyn’s defense has had trouble against opposing bigs (a recent Andre Drummond 22-20 comes to mind), and even though the Nets beat the Heat comfortably last game, Whiteside played just 20 minutes for his 17 points and eight rebounds.

How the Nets defend when the Miami Heat go big with Kylly Olynyk and Whiteside sharing the court will be telling, with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson again drawing an important defensive assignment.

3) Bench scoring

After the Nets bench contributed just 27 points in the 34-point trouncing at the hands of the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 10, it has put up at least 44 points in each of the four games since. With Russell returning and up against a Miami second unit that contains Wayne Ellington, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Johnson, the bench again will need to be ready to contribute.

Whether there are extended stints of Jahlil Okafor, or again the team relies on Smokin’ Joe Harris and Caris LeVert, the Nets need offensive output from its bench to be and remain competitive.