The Brooklyn Nets entered 2012 with high hopes following an offseason which included moving to a new stadium and signing several star players in free agency.
The flashy free-agent signings gave the Nets some much-needed publicity, but their most important player may have already been on the roster. Former Charlotte Bobcats All-Star Gerald Wallace was brought in late last season to give the Nets a solid defensive identity, something they sorely lacked all year.
Unfortunately, his tenure in Brooklyn got off to a rocky start. The 30-year-old forward sprained his ankle in the final seconds of the season opener against the Toronto Raptors. He had to watch the next game from the bench, an agonizing 107-96 setback against the Minnesota Timberwolves during which Minnesota overcame a 22-point deficit.
Wallace will be back, eventually. A more pressing concern is how the Nets will deal with his absence if he can't take the floor against LeBron James and the Miami Heat on Nov. 7. As of Monday, Wallace is officially listed as "questionable" for the game.
The Nets have undoubtedly had this game circled on their calendars ever since they moved from New Jersey. Their big offseason gave them "contender" status and there is no better stage to test a team's mettle than against the defending NBA champions.
But Wallace's injury has really thrown a wrench in the Nets' plans. If he can't go, Brooklyn will be missing its best on-ball defender, and the only player on the team that could have a chance at containing James. Wallace has been a sturdy defender for the better part of 12 years, and he could be the difference between victory or defeat for a Brooklyn team that is allowing 103.5 points through two games.
The Heat, known for their suffocating defense over the past two years, have been absolutely on fire so far in 2012. Miami leads the league in scoring at just under 112 points per game and doesn't seem to be slowing down while incorporating new acquisitions Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis into the offense.
It's probably premature to look at this game as a potential playoff preview, but it could go a long way in terms of giving one team a psychological edge over the other. If anything, Wallace's potential absence will only magnify his importance to the Nets' plans. If James goes off for 40 points, Brooklyn will come to the realization that Wallace's health could be the biggest key to having a successful season.