The first time these two re-tooled teams meant in South Beach this season, the Nets were rip-rolled off the court. Brooklyn lost by 30 points, and Miami was allowed to rest its Big Three down the stretch.
But again, that was a different version of the Nets. Saturday night, the Heat get a taste of the first-place Nets, who currently sit atop the Atlantic Division.
Miami is coming off a disappointing victory—if there were ever such a thing—to a decimated San Antonio Spurs. LeBron James and company managed to prevail in the end, but they lacked the necessary fire to close out an inferior team early.
Will that be the case in this one? Will the Brook Lopez-less Nets stay within striking distance the entire game? Will they be able to turn a tightly contested matchup into an upset on the road?
Or will the Heat opt to assert their dominance as reigning NBA champions and remain undefeated at home?
Time: Saturday, December 1, 7:30 p.m. ET
Records: Miami Heat (11-3) vs. Brooklyn Nets (11-4)
Betting Line: Heat (-9)
Injuries (via CBSSports.com)
Nets: Brook Lopez (foot, out)
Heat: Shane Battier (knee, questionable); Dexter Pittman (hamstring, questionable)
Key Storyline: Can the Heat Remain Undefeated at Home?
As of November 30, the Heat are one of only three undefeated teams at home.
Though Miami has played in plenty of tightly contested games at the American Airlines Arena, it has managed to rattle off seven straight victories on its own turf—including a blowout of the Nets themselves.
But again, this is a different Brooklyn team than the one from a few weeks ago. Since that game, the Nets have won five in a row—and 10 of their last 12— and have risen significantly in the standings.
One could point to the absence of Lopez as a surefire sign that the Nets don't stand a chance, yet after watching the Heat nearly fail to beat a depleted Spurs team, Brooklyn cannot be counted out.
Miami will undoubtedly look to rebound off its lackluster performance in said game, ultimately hoping to put the Nets away early once again.
Whether or not the Heat can push their record to 8-0 at home, though, remains to be seen.
Key Matchup: Gerald Wallace, SF, Nets vs. LeBron James, SF, Heat
Wallace was forced to sit out with a sprained ankle the first time his Nets faced the Heat, which means he wound up watching helplessly as Brooklyn was blown out of the building.
The Nets traded for—and subsequently retained—Wallace primarily for his defense. The man can score plenty, but he's one of the best perimeter defenders in the game. And don't take my word for it. Ask Carmelo Anthony; he'll tell you.
With Wallace set to go, the Nets now have someone they hope can combat the likes of LeBron James, who torched Brooklyn for 20 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists on 58.3 percent shooting—in just 30 minutes, no less—the first time.
Though no one player in the NBA is capable of stopping James, Wallace gives the Nets someone with the potential at least to help contain him. And that could go a long way in the box score.
Or it could mean absolutely nothing.
LeBron is the best player in the league for a reason. He can torch opposing defenses at will and is a triple-double threat every night.
Wallace is extremely deft at stopping pure scorers, but he's not used to defending a playmaker like James. Reading LeBron's first step is one thing, but blinding his court vision at the same time is another undertaking entirely.
If James opts to play the part of a facilitator more than anything else Saturday night, there will be little—if anything at all—Wallace and the rest of the Nets can do to impede his execution.
Deron Williams, PG, Nets
While Williams is the ultimate face of the Brooklyn franchise, he may be the one that gets lost in Miami's defensive shuffle.
Mario Chalmers isn't the worst of outside defenders, but he doesn't possess the anticipation or footwork necessary to deter Williams' defensive penetration.
With James, Dwyane Wade and hopefully a healthy Shane Battier left manning Kris Humphries, Joe Johnson and Wallace, the help defense will be limited. Should Battier be unable to go, though, it will actually be nonexistent.
Which means Williams can and must have a big night. Brooklyn is without it's leading scorer in Lopez, so someone is going to have to pick up the slack. And then some.
Williams' ability to exploit an athletically inferior Chalmers will go a long way in the ultimate outcome of this game.
Dwyane Wade, SG, Heat
Wade is currently Miami's third-leading scorer.
Let that sink in. The shooting guard is currently being outscored by both Chris Bosh and LeBron James, a trend that will have to change against Brooklyn.
Though James has the clear edge on Wallace, his points aren't going to come as easily. Neither will those of Bosh, who will see extensive time against defensive savants Humphries and Reggie Evans.
Wade, however, will be combated by a combination of Johnson and Williams. The latter is a talented defender, but no match for the elusive and acrobatic Wade.
Should the eight-time All-Star regain his offensive footing against a handful of favorable matchups, the Heat's ability to remain unbeaten at home will be strengthened substantially.
Reggie Evans, PF, Nets
Evans has the potential to be a nightmare for the Heat.
Not only will he flop without regard for fines or suspensions, but he's a monster on the boards and a talented defender .
Evans' rebounding abilities are a major advantage for the Nets. Miami is the third-worst rebounding team in the league right now, and if he can prevent them getting second-chance opportunities while creating plenty for his teammates, the Heat will be in trouble.
Like first-loss-at-home trouble.
Ray Allen, SG, Miami Heat
Brooklyn does not have a double-figure scorer coming of its bench. Miami does.
Allen is currently averaging 13.4 points and shooting an obnoxious 51.9 percent from downtown. While the Nets bench is averaging 32.2 points per game—two more than Miami's—they lack that star-caliber punch Allen provides.
To ensure the Heat can walk away with a second straight victory over the Nets, Allen must continue his hot shooting.
Lest the Heat want to make this one much more of a nail-biter than their game against San Antonio was.
Prediction: Heat 103, Nets 94
Offense meets defense in this battle of two Eastern Conference powerhouses.
The Heat boast one of the league's most potent offensive attacks; Miami is scoring 110.1 points per 100 possessions, the second-most in the league.
Brooklyn, by comparison, is allowing just 90.7 points per game, the best mark in the NBA.
That said, despite the Nets' superior defensive attack, they're going to be hard-pressed to beat a Heat team that will be much more motivated than they were Thursday night.
Lopez's absence also cripples Brooklyn's offensive game plan. He provided the Nets with a post presence the Heat simply could not match the first time around, and if he had stayed out of foul trouble, they could have pushed Miami's porous low-post defense to the brink.
Lopez will be on the shelf, however, meaning Miami's small-ball setup isn't as vulnerable in this one. James will have his hands full with Wallace, and Chalmers is liable to get run over by Williams, but the reigning champs possess too many offensive weapons to be stopped.
Toss in Brooklyn's lackluster offensive numbers this season—95.6 points per game, 18th-most in the league—and the Heat will face little resistance in their quest to remain undefeated at home.
Expect the Nets to remain within striking distance for much of the game, but not to the point where the Heat collapse.
In other words, 8-0 at home, here Miami comes.
All stats in this article are accurate as of November 30, 2012.
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