The Miami Heat have won four of five, but face a challenge in the feisty Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 30. The defending champions will need to face their road woes at the Barclays Center, where Brooklyn has gone 17-7 compared to Miami's 10-10 mark on the road.
This is also the third time the teams face each other this season, with the Heat having blown out the Nets on Nov. 7 and Dec. 1. However, the scene could very well change for this game.
Brooklyn is also no longer coached by Avery Johnson, whose isolation game did not fit the new-look Nets well. He was fired on Dec. 27 and replaced by assistant P.J. Carlesimo, who has employed more of a fast-paced system that utilizes Deron Williams' effectiveness on the pick-and-roll more. Since the change, the Nets have gone 13-4 and rocketed up to the No. 4 spot in the Eastern Conference.
Brooklyn has also played great defense since the coaching change, which could spell trouble for Miami. Though the Heat also play a fast-paced offense, they tend to struggle on the defensive end and are currently the worst rebounding team in the league.
Just the same, this is a team with three of the league's best players on its roster. They have blown Brooklyn out twice before, and will look to do the same in this game.
That means keeping up with the Nets and their new identity, which is easier said than done.
Time: Wednesday, Jan. 30, 8:00 p.m. EST
TV: ESPN, YES, Sun Sports
Records: Miami Heat (28-13) vs. Brooklyn Nets (27-18)
Betting Line: Not available as of Tuesday, Jan. 29, 8:45 a.m.
Injuries: Tornike Shengelia (concussion, out)
Key Storyline: Is Now Nets' Time to Best Heat?
The Nets have faced Miami twice already this season, and with unsatisfying results. The Heat won a 103-73 blowout on Nov. 7 at Barclays Center thanks to 22 points from Dwyane Wade, plus 20 points and 12 rebounds from reigning MVP LeBron James. Deron Williams led Brooklyn with 14 points.
Brooklyn suffered yet another loss at the hands of Miami on Dec. 1, losing 102-89 at American Airlines Arena. The Nets blew a 14-point lead in that game and left as victims of a 34-point performance from Wade. On Brooklyn's end, Andray Blatche led with 20 points and eight rebounds.
The team has clearly responded very positively to Carlesimo's more offense-oriented style, and they will look to use it well against Miami. As we have all seen, Miami's approach is all about using the Big Three to overwhelm the opposition, and Brooklyn must keep up with that offense today.
At the same time, they must use their superior defense to slow down Miami's game at certain points. The Nets are fifth in points allowed and 15th in rebounding, whereas the Heat are last in rebounding and 13th in points allowed.
The stage is set for an epic grudge match, and the Nets are going to be fully locked in to defend their home court.
Key Matchup: Brook Lopez vs. Chris Bosh
Brook Lopez and Chris Bosh have very similar approaches to the game. They both have solid offensive games, but aren't the best on defense.
The only major difference between the two is that Lopez, while having a solid jump shot and scoring ability, plays better interior defense. He has averaged 18.6 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game on the season, and has the size to play center at 7'0", 265 pounds.
Despite those good numbers, Lopez was not selected to represent the Eastern Conference in this year's NBA All-Star Game. Ironically, the man who seems to be occupying his spot is none other than Bosh.
Don't get me wrong. Bosh is not a bad player by any means. It's just that when it comes to this season, and playing center, Lopez is the better man.
Bosh definitely has the size to play the 5 at 6'11", 235 pounds, but plays more like a scoring power forward than he does a true defensive big man. He uses his jump shot, but far more often than Lopez does. On the season, he is averaging 17.2 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.
Long story short, Lopez needs to take full advantage of Bosh's defensive shortcomings if the Nets are to win this game. That means forcing the man into the low post and not letting him rely on his jump shot at any point. All in all, Lopez must make Bosh play defense.
This is well out of both Bosh and Miami's comfort zone, as the Nets have three great rebounders in Reggie Evans, Lopez and Kris Humphries. Let just one of those three get hot in the paint, and the game is lost for the Heat unless their offense is absolutely lights-out from start to finish.
This makes Bosh and Lopez's battle all the more important, as the Heat's offense will need to be in full force to take the Nets out of the game.
X-Factor: Joe Johnson
The Heat like to score points. In fact, they rank fifth in that category with 102.7 points per game. Brooklyn ranks just 17th at 97.1 per game, so they'll definitely need a spark going into their battle with Miami.
This means that an epic scoring night from Joe Johnson will be needed.
Ever since being traded from the Atlanta Hawks over the summer, Johnson has averaged 17.1 points per contest and shot 43 percent from the field. He has also made 38 percent of his threes, solidifying his status as one of the game's pure scorers.
Johnson has averaged just 16 points over his last five games, but has shot an incredible 43 percent from long range over that stretch. In the month of January, he has averaged 18.1 points.
Scoring a lot of points will be tough against Miami, especially since he will be guarded by an excellent pest in Dwyane Wade, but Johnson still needs to stop at nothing to put points on the board, even if it means his overall field goal percentage suffers.
He must drive the lane and go for threes. Using his mid-range jumper is vitally important. Basically, he cannot get comfortable in one routine and must use his shot from multiple areas of the floor. He's a pure scorer, so this isn't hard to do, but the defense of Dwyane Wade can be intimidating.
Johnson just needs to make sure that he doesn't let Wade scare him. He must fight past the defense and do what he can to get points on the board. If he can get at least 20 on the board, then the Nets definitely have a fighting chance.
Give him 25, and the team could very well have a win.
As great as the Heat have looked for most of the season, they've gotten too comfortable as defending champions. Their defense is subpar, and that is why the Nets will win this game.
Granted, it's going to be a hard-fought battle from start to finish. LeBron James and Dwyane Wade will turn in some excellent overall performances, and Ray Allen will sink some key threes coming off the bench.
Chris Bosh will just be unable to handle Brook Lopez. Despite his size, defense is not his strong suit, and that will be greatly exposed in this contest. Bosh may hit double figures in scoring, but will be taken to school in every other department.
Who will win?
In the end, Lopez will show just how he is more of an All-Star than his more experienced opponent.
On Brooklyn's end, Deron Williams will continue to show improvement and have a solid game in both scoring and passing. Kris Humphries will come off the bench to grab some key rebounds.
However, the man of the hour will be Joe Johnson. He will be sinking shots left and right, miraculously getting past the pesky D of Wade. He'll hit double figures and hit a clutch three in the fourth quarter, and the Nets will pull away after that.
By the final buzzer, all that Miami will be able to do is stand and watch, absolutely stunned that they lost such a well-fought battle.
Brooklyn Nets 107, Miami Heat 102