The Heat are locked in a three-way battle for sixth place in the east, with their 41-35 record log-jamming them between the Bucks and the Wizards.
They have won two games in a row, the latest of which was a comfortable 103-92 victory over the Bulls. Josh Richardson put up 22 points in the win while Goran Dragic contributed 17 points and five assists.
On Saturday they’ll face a side with a little less to play for. The Nets are in 13th place in the Eastern Conference standings with a 24-51, and have little motivation to win or lose given the Cavs hold their 2018 first round draft pick.
They are coming off a win though, having defeated the Magic 111-104 on Wednesday. D’Angelo Russell was terrific in the win, scoring 16 points and dishing out 12 assists, while Caris LeVert also impressed with 16 points and six assists.
Three keys to the game
Recent history - The Nets have shown signs of improvement, but overall have had another disappointing season. Against Miami though, they are 1-2 this season and have won the past two matchups, one of which was by 24 points. The Heat are a much better side but haven’t shown as much in the recent games between these sides.
Can Miami capitalize on the Nets’ weakness on the defensive glass? - The Nets allow too many second-chance points this season. Their opponents score 13.7 points per game in this way, which is just 0.1 lower than the worst side in the league in this category. Miami, however, are sixth last in second-chance points in the league.
Home court Heat - Miami have loved playing at home this season. In 37 such games, they are 24-13, a 53 win pace over the course of the season. They won’t get anywhere near that figure, though, because their away record is significantly worse at 17-22.
Matchup to watch
D’Angelo Russell vs Goran Dragic - Russell is a talented but enigmatic player, and he has shown signs lately that his game is coming together. In his most recent game, he took just nine shots for 16 points and dished out 12 assists. The game before that he had just one assist, but one game prior had a triple-double with 18 points, 11 rebounds, and 13 assists. He is still inconsistent, but two of his last three performances have shown an increased maturity from the former number two draft pick.
On Saturday he’ll face a point guard with a lot more experience. Dragic is in his tenth season in the NBA, and this season puts up 17.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game. He rarely puts up huge numbers but rarely plays badly, in stark contrast to Russell. Who wins this matchup could have a huge influence on the outcome of the game.
Miami Heat predicted starting lineup
PG - Goran Dragic | SG - Tyler Johnson | SF - Josh Richardson | PF - James Johnson | C - Hassan Whiteside
Brooklyn Nets predicted starting lineup
PG - D’Angelo Russell | SG - Allen Crabbe | SF - Rondae Hollis-Jefferson | PF - DeMarre Carroll | C - Jarrett Allen
Whiteside has played nine times against the Nets and has caused them some headaches in these games. He puts up 15.8 points on 57.4% shooting in them, grabs 9.1 rebounds, and, perhaps most importantly, contributes 2.8 blocks.
Dragic has been typically steady in his 21 career games against Brooklyn. In these outings, he averages 15.1 points on 46.3% shooting, 3.6 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 1.3 steals.
The Nets have been given a 7.5 point head start by oddsmakers, and should just be able to cover it. Miami are the better side and should get the win, but they don’t beat teams by large margins. They often have close finishes and expect this one to be close enough to allow the Nets to cover the line.
The Nets will put up a fight in this game, but ultimately won’t be able to get over the line over a more well-rounded Heat side. Whiteside will be dominant on the inside against the inexperienced Jarrett Allen, and against a Nets team which concedes big numbers to physical interior presences.
Alongside Dragic at point guard, who will put up 20 points, the Heat will run out 109-102 winners.
The game will be broadcast locally on Fox Sports Sun and YES Network. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.