After enduring two blowout losses on the road, the Brooklyn Nets returned home to defeat a struggling Orlando Magic team, and are now preparing to face none other than the defending champion Miami Heat.
Not only were these two losses to the Heat extremely ugly, but the Nets just outright embarrassed themselves.
The Nets need a victory on Wednesday, or at least be able to compete for the full 48 minutes. More likely than not, they will need to defeat the Heat in the playoffs before they can even begin the championship chatter.
This game will be one of the most important ones of the Nets' season, because they have to make a statement to prove that they are legit contenders, not just a team full of misfit stars.
Rebounding—the Heat's Achilles heel—is one of a few major advantages the Nets have.
They possess two of the best rebounders in the business in Reggie Evans and Kris Humphries.
Evans is leading all qualified players in total rebounding rate with an otherworldly 23.8, which means that he corrals nearly 24 percent of all available rebounds when he's on the court (per Basketball Reference). Humphries is also contributing at a considerable 19.1 rebounding rate himself.
Throughout the game, the Nets should have one of these board-hogging machines on the floor to pound the worst rebounding team in the league.
You can't teach height, and nobody on the Heat has the necessary length to guard Brook Lopez.
Standing at 7'0", Lopez towers over every big man on the Heat roster. He should touch the ball every possession when he's on the floor, and the Nets should run the offense through their dominant big man.
Lopez's post-up ability, smooth mid-range jump shot and knack for drawing fouls should put a huge amount of pressure on the Heat defense.
If he makes shrewd decisions with the basketball on the low block, his teammates will benefit from kick outs and open looks at the rim.
Granted, this is much easier said than done.
Talent-wise, the Nets have just as many All-Star caliber players as the Heat. However, the problem that remains is that the Nets' stars cannot stop the Heats' stars, while the Heat defense can lock down the Nets' stars.
Other than Brook Lopez, who's the most important player for the Nets in this matchup, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson will need to play like they're perennial All-Stars. Both of them will need to control the ball in a half-court set and not allow the Heat's transition attack to dictate the pace of the game.
In the previous two meetings, Johnson only put up nine and 12 points, respectively. Williams also struggled, scoring just 14 and 10 points, although he did register 12 assists in the second meeting. With the offense running through Lopez, both of them must make all of the open shots they can get.
Nonetheless, the truth is that all of the Nets' stars must play at a higher level in order for the team to have any chance of winning. If Johnson and Williams both have ordinary games, then the Nets are as good as done.
The Nets have taken care of the ball rather well so far this season. They're only turning the ball over 13.8 times per game, good for 12th in the league (per Hollinger's Team Stats).
Against the Heat this season though, they're uncharacteristically registering 18.5 turnovers in two contests. They simply cannot afford to give the Heat any easy transition baskets.
It's difficult enough for the Nets to contain their superstars in a half-court set, so allowing easy fast-break points is just brutal.
Interestingly enough, the bulk of the turnovers has come from their primary ball handlers or playmakers. In the first meeting, C.J. Watson, MarShon Brooks and Deron Williams combined for 13 of the team's 19 turnovers, with Williams committing seven by himself.
Nobody in the league can stop LeBron James, but the Nets can slow him down by playing tough individual defense and suffocating team defense.
Gerald Wallace is their anchor on defense, but he cannot match up to James face-to-face. He does deserve some credit for limiting James' touches in their past two meetings, holding him to "just" 21.6 PPG, 9.3 RPG and 6.2 APG.
The best option against James is to force him to take long jumpers, and collapsing the defense when he launches himself towards the basket. In a half-court set, whoever is defending James must make a fully committed effort to deny him the ball, long enough so that he won't have time to make a play when he gets it.
However, his court vision and passing skills are so good that he will probably find the open man in any situation, regardless of all the bodies surrounding him. In order to counter that, the Nets will have to close out on the Heat's plethora of three-point shooters very quickly.
Again, it's easier said than done.