When the 2013-14 season kicked off in autumn, many orbiting the hoopshere predicted that the Brooklyn Nets would battle the Miami Heat for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
After all, adding the Big Ticket, The Truth, AK-47 and JET to the formidable triumvirate of Lopez, Johnson and Williams would surely get the Nets somewhere close to the East’s pole position. Whispers of the first NBA Championship in Metro NY since 1973 were heard on subway platforms from Brooklyn Heights to Bensonhurst.
However, the realities of age, injuries, team chemistry and new roles took their collective toll on first-year coach Jason Kidd’s squad. Brooklyn stumbled out of the gate, going 5-14 in the first quarter of the season.
But with the new year came a revitalized and more tenacious group. Despite losing All-Star center Lopez for the season, Brooklyn is 22-9 in 2014, better than every other team in the East during this 2.5 month period.
And with 75% of the schedule behind them, the Nets have climbed above .500 to 32-30, good for a solid 6th seed. Though nowhere near where they thought they’d be at this juncture, Brooklyn is starting to resemble a scary, poised opponent.
Tonight the Nets and Heat will battle in the third of four 48’s this season. Brooklyn bested LeBron and friends in the prior two meetings, once in the Orange State and once in the Empire State.
At 44-17 Miami is second in the East, 1.5 games behind Indiana. On Monday night at home they ended a 3-game losing streak, topping the upstart Wizards 99-90. MVP James led his team with 23 points, 8 dimes, 7 boards and 3 steals.
With 21 games remaining in the regular season, Miami has time to catch the Pacers and will try to make a statement on their homecourt. The Heat have the league’s second-best home mark at 25-4, while Brooklyn is just 12-19 away from Barclays this season.
19th-year veteran Garnett has missed the past six games for the Nets and will also miss tonight’s big test. Andrei Kirilenko was ruled out due to a sprained right ankle and will miss his second straight game.
Tune in to the YES Network at 7PM ET to see if the Nets can be the rare team to win the season series against this Miami juggernaut. Ian Eagle and I will be back in the booth, and Sarah Kustok will join us from the sidelines!