Josh Newman, SNYNets.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – With the Nets moving to 17-0 against sub-.500 teams on Monday night after a 97-77 home win over the Orlando Magic, things are about to get a little tougher beginning Wednesday when the defending NBA champion Miami Heat make their first trip to Barclays Center.
The Nets have already dropped two games to the Heat, 103-73 in Miami on Nov. 7 and 102-89 in Miami on Dec. 1. Wednesday will mark the third and final regular season meeting between the two teams and will begin a key three-game stretch of strong teams visiting Brooklyn. The Chicago Bulls will be in town on Friday, with the Los Angeles Lakers to follow on Tuesday.
“Both times we played Miami, it was down there and we really weren’t competitive, we didn’t do a good job either game,” Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo said after practice on Tuesday. “When you play them, they’re the champions for a reason. Obviously, they’ve got a couple of the best players in the game. You’re not gonna beat them with a clever game plan or with mirrors. You’ve got to come and you’ve got to play for 48 minutes.”
Since Carlesimo took over for Avery Johnson on Dec. 27, the Nets’ season, as well as their prospects of a strong postseason have received a shot in the arm. A 13-4 start to open Carlesimo’s tenure in Brooklyn has been marked by wins over contending teams like the Knicks, Oklahoma City Thunder and Indiana Pacers. However, taking on the Heat is an entirely different animal.
At 28-13, the Heat own the best record in the Eastern Conference and they have gotten to that point in part by what has arguably been a career year for LeBron James. The three-time league MVP is averaging 26.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game at the season’s midway points. His rebounding and assists are both above his career averages of 7.2 rebounds and 6.9 assists, respectively.
Additionally, Dwyane Wade has picked up his play of late, averaging 24.6 points, 6.4 assists and 5.2 rebounds over his last five games.
“They did what they had to do and that was protect their home floor when we went to Miami those two times, so now, we gotta return the favor,” Joe Johnson said. “We have to really take heed to what we have to do defensively and offensively, not turn the ball over and let them get out in transition. We gotta be very precise tomorrow and be on our P’s and Q’s.”
Whether it was under Avery Johnson or Carlesimo, the Nets have done a nice job of beating the teams they should, hence their gaudy, unbeaten record mark against sub-.500 squads. The record against teams over .500, 10-18, leaves something to be desired.
After the Heat leave Brooklyn, the Bulls sport a 27-17 record, sans Derrick Rose and while the Lakers are just 19-25 at the moment, they have shown signs of life in the last two games behind Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard.
Before the All-Star break, the Nets will play winning teams in the San Antonio Spurs, Pacers and Denver Nuggets.
“Those games that we have left before the All-Star break, a lot of them are against, not just playoff teams, but playoff teams that are gonna be seeded one through four. We’ll find out a lot about where we’re at right now and how we gotta continue to improve. Am I happy where we’re at? Yes, but very, very sure that we have a long way to go. I like where we are relative to where we were, but we’re not anywhere near where we need to be.”
Josh Newman is SNYNets.com’s Field Reporter. Follow him on Twitter for up to the minute news and banter on all things related to the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA