Bet the Heat, cash the ticket, rinse, repeat. That’s how it’s gone for us lately. We’re 2–0 backing Miami this month. Get back in line because the Heat is in Brooklyn tonight.
We, too, have successfully backed Brooklyn as a home dog a couple times this season. Kenny Atkinson gets his guys to play hard. The Nets don’t have much talent, but they have stayed competitive, despite all sorts of close losses. There’s a fine line between winning and losing and the emotion each elicits is opposite of the other. Often, the closer the losses are to wins and the wins are to losses, the more intense that emotion is. It’s a good sign that the players haven’t given into the frustration of coming up just short so many times already this season.
Tonight sounds like it will be D’Angelo Russell’s return. Russell played just about the first three weeks of the season before injuring his knee and going under the knife. Presumably, Brooklyn has been cautious every step along the way with Russell, who has reportedly worked meticulously throughout his rehab, and it’s discovered a second point guard along the way in Spencer Dinwiddie. To cite my prior point about Brooklyn’s caution, Russell probably won’t play lots of minutes tonight and very well may not start, but Dinwiddie will eventually return to the bench. He also may play alongside Russell in a backcourt with two guys who can make plays off the dribble, as is the trend across the league. I would think most of Russell’s minutes tonight will include Dinwiddie so that all the pressure isn’t on Russell to run the offense.
Brooklyn’s backcourt gets a lot deeper and better with Russell back. He’s their most talented scorer and at least as good a playmaker as Dinwiddie. I don’t think that means Brooklyn will see a bump right away. In fact, I expect there to be a period of adjustment, where Dinwiddie gets used to playing with Russell and Russell gets back into the shape he needs to be in to lead his team. Brooklyn has been a good bet against the spread because it plays so hard, especially at home. Russell hasn’t exactly earned the reputation as a hustle guy and I would be shocked to see him go full-board tonight off of knee surgery. Tonight, he will hurt his team more than he will help it, which is a necessary step.
But while the Nets add a backcourt piece, the Heat remains without one. Tyler Johnson had his ankle re-evaluated yesterday and, reportedly, the doctors discovered nothing new. Johnson has made it sound like he will be back in a matter of days. I’m not convinced it’s that routine of an injury (it looked rather ugly), but you can’t doubt the man’s toughness. He will play as soon as the doctors clear him.
He would have been a valuable defender against Russell, Dinwiddie or Allen Crabbe, who all have some size. Instead, more of the onus will fall on Goran Dragic and Johnson’s fill-in, Derrick Jones Jr., who is running out of eligibility on his two-way contract. Jones Jr. has a limited offensive game, but is one of the finest athletes in the NBA. He has no equal when it comes to leaping ability and that, combined with his quickness and length, makes him a plus defender. He flunked out of a structure-less system in Phoenix and is now flourishing under Eric Spolestra, doing only what he does well in a highly-controlled environment. It’s yet another great example of why you can’t just judge a player’s ability on what he produces on the court for his particular team.
I’m a little concerned about Brooklyn’s guards getting where they want against Dragic. If that happens, Justise Winslow could be the x-factor in this game. He’s been running the point in limited spurts since his return and has been playing lockdown defense. He can defend any of those three Brooklyn guards with added size that Dragic doesn’t have.
When it’s a completely healthy team, Miami can matchup with any team in the NBA because of all the moving pieces. Eric Spolestra has the cards and he knows how to play them. Miami is rolling and must remember the 24-point loss Brooklyn handed it less than a month ago. The Heat is a superior team and will come out with at least as much energy as the Nets.
Free Pick: Miami -3