Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Heat Brace for Final Skirmish Versus Brooklyn

The Brooklyn Nets have had Miami’s number all season.

Three games, three Nets victories, each for a variety of reasons.

Miami faced Brooklyn waaaaaaaaaay back in Week 1 of this long regular season, dropping a second consecutive loss after the laughable-in-retrospect win by the Philadelphia 76ers (Y’know, in the history books?). The Heat lost by 1, with starter Udonis Haslem (not the new-and-improved kind that’s recently been in the lineup) putting up 2 points in 9 minutes, and getting key non-contributions from Shane Battier (0 points) and Chris Andersen (4 points).

In January, a cold-blooded Joe Johnson (32 points) was killing it all night, and Shaun Livingston seemed to spark his revitalized play this season (19 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks). The game went into overtime and Miami was missing Battier, Mario Chalmers and Dwyane Wade, and wasted a 36-point outing from LeBron James. This game was sandwiched in between a 3-game losing streak.

In early March, the Nets’ Paul Pierce dropped 29 on Miami and James was off, totaling only 19 points on the night.

Each loss was unique, and was impacted by either the absence of a key player or an atypical lack of production. But make no mistake, Brooklyn is a dangerous team and a real threat in the playoffs.

Their season started like a train-wreck, losses piling up like boxcars through November and December. But they’ve been one of the best teams in the NBA in 2014, certainly the best in the Eastern Conference. Livingston has been a big part of it; his length and intelligence leading to mismatches nightly. Role players like Mason Plumlee and Andray Blatche have been effective as well.

Still, Brooklyn’s All-Stars – Pierce, Johnson and guard Deron Williams – are the straw that stirs the drink. Despite the absence of Heat nemesis Kevin Garnett due to injury, the Nets have climbed their way up the East standings, now a respectable fith-seed. KG, despite playing in a Saturday game, is expected out against Miami.

Miami is atop the Eastern Conference, now a full game over the Indiana Pacers. A win tonight is crucial to maintaining that psychological advantage over the Pacers.

As overblown as it might be, that same edge seems to belong to Brooklyn. While most teams fear Miami, the Nets’ veteran lineup is indifferent, perhaps even belligerently respectful of the Heat. They want the opportunity to prove themselves and Miami represents the ultimate test.

But Miami’s inconsistent season – different lineups, losses to sub-.500 teams, lackluster defense – could use a boost, especially with the playoffs only weeks away.

Seeing who passes this test, one the Heat has failed on three previous occasions, could have ramifications if these two teams meet once again in the playoffs.

Watch the telecast of the game beginning at 8 P.M. on TNT from AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami. Check back with AllUCanHeat for a regular updates and for a full recap after the game.

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Tags: Dwyane Wade Lebron James Udonis Haslem

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