Avoiding the play-in round is a priority for any team, and the outcome of the final contest before the All-Star break could determine whether the Brooklyn Nets or Miami Heat end up in that situation.
Both teams are currently clear of the play-in round, but a slump could easily knock them down in the Eastern Conference standings as the Nets look to increase their hold on fifth place when they host the sixth-place Heat on Wednesday night.
Brooklyn is clear of the play-in game mostly because of what it achieved between Dec. 7 and Jan. 8 when it went on a 12-game winning streak and won 14 of 15. The last of those games was a 102-101 win at Miami on Jan. 8 when Kevin Durant sprained his right knee while colliding with Jimmy Butler during the third quarter.
The Nets were 27-13 when Durant was injured and second in the East with a one-game deficit behind the Boston Celtics.Brooklyn is 6-11 in the 17 games since and has dropped to fifth but 3 1/2 games behind fourth-place Cleveland entering Tuesday’s action.
During Brooklyn’s 15-game tear, it scored at least 120 points eight times but since then it has topped 120 only six times and none while losing four of its past five games. The recent slide comes amidst the transformation of a roster that featured Durant and Kyrie Irving to newcomers Spencer Dinwiddie, Mikal Bridges, Cameron Johnson and Dorian Finney-Smith, who were obtained when the stars sought trades from Brooklyn.
The Nets began their new era with a 116-105 win over Chicago on Thursday but struggled offensively in their next two games. After scoring 16 points in the fourth quarter of a 101-98 loss to Philadelphia on Saturday, Brooklyn scored 45 points after halftime and was outscored 44-26 over the final 14-plus minutes of Monday’s 124-106 loss to the host New York Knicks.
Dinwiddie scored 28 points but 20 were in Brooklyn’s 61-point opening half. Johnson added 14 but Bridges was held to seven after getting 23 Saturday.
“That was the overall challenge, just to be able to put the ball in the basket,” Nets coach Jacque Vaughn said. “And it’s something we’re going to work on and stress as a group.”
Miami’s roster situation is not about adding new pieces but health. The Heat are 1 1/2 games behind the Nets and a half-game up on seventh-place New York enetering Tuesday.
Miami had 10 players available Monday when it dropped to 20-12 in games decided by five or fewer points in a 112-108 home loss to the Denver Nuggets. Besides missing Kyle Lowry (sore left knee) and Victor Oladipo (ankle), the Heat were without Tyler Herro due to a knee bruise that may prevent him from suiting up Wednesday.
Butler scored 24 points and Max Strus finished with 23. Bam Adebayo added 19 but his two rebounds were a season-low and may have contributed to Miami allowing 58 points in the paint after entering Monday allowing 44.9 points inside.
“I think we did a lot of things to put ourselves in a position to have a chance to win it,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We just didn’t do those three or four more things that would have been necessary tonight.”
–Field Level Media