With Nets visiting Sunday, why the reeling Heat badly needs Brooklyn to fail

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Barry Jackson
·5 min read
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A reeling Heat team that couldn’t beat the worst of what the NBA has to offer must now, less than 48 hours later, measure where it stands against one of the NBA’s best.

After looking defenseless at times in Friday’s loss at Minnesota, the Heat (28-28 and on an ongoing three-game skid) now faces an offensive dynamo, a Nets team with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving available but James Harden still sidelined. Brooklyn enters averaging 117.3 points per 100 possessions, tied with the Clippers for best in the league.

And let’s be clear about this: Though championship contenders Philadelphia and Milwaukee stand as probably the teams with the most to gain by this loaded Brooklyn team flopping in the months ahead, no team has more valid reasons to root for these Nets to implode, over the next 15 months, than the Heat.

For Miami, the benefit of Brooklyn underachieving extends well beyond any boost it would give to Miami’s chances to make a deep playoff run.

If the Nets disappoint next season, it would help the Heat’s position in the 2022 NBA Draft. That takes on particular significance because Miami will not have a first-round pick in 2021, regardless of whether it makes the playoffs or not.

And if the Nets fail to win a title this season and next season, it likely would increase the chances of Harden, Durant and Irving exercising player options to become free agents in July 2022.

Keep in mind that Harden had interest in the Heat before he was traded to Brooklyn; Harden and Jimmy Butler are friends and sources said Harden had a comfort level with any potential trade to Miami, though nothing was ever close because of Miami’s lack of appealing assets.

In 2017, Irving listed the Heat among his preferred destinations when he requested a trade from Cleveland.

And Durant gave the Heat a meeting when he left OKC for Golden State in free agency in 2016.

If the Nets win the next two titles - or the 2021-22 championship - the odds would favor that troika staying together and defending its title in 2022-23.

But if this Brooklyn team implodes, then luring Harden, Durant or Irving in 2022 free agency would represent perhaps Miami’s best chance to build a championship roster alongside Jimmy Butler (has a $37.6 million player option for 2022-23) and Bam Adebayo (signed through 2024-25).

Since Harden was acquired from Houston on Jan. 24, the Nets’ Big Three has played together only seven games, primarily because of injuries. But two of those seven games were wins against Miami, with Brooklyn’s Big 3 leading the Nets to 128-124 and 98-85 victories against the visiting Heat on Jan. 23 and 25.

Durant’s playing time is being limited to the 30-minute-per-game range as he works his way back from a hamstring injury. He had 25 points and 11 assists in just 30 minutes of Friday’s win against Charlotte.

Harden missed two games with a hamstring strain, returned for one game on April 5 but played just four minutes because of hamstring tightness, then missed the past five. The Nets suggested he’s nearing a return, but he’s out for Sunday, as is former Heat guard Tyler Johnson.

“We want to get everybody healthy and acclimated to what we’re doing out there,” Durant said.

NBA Hall of Famer Julius Erving, appearing recently on 76ers guard Danny Green’s podcast, compared the Nets’ approach to George Steinbrenner’s Yankees of an earlier era.

“It’s reminiscent of how the Yankees used to do it all the time. They load up – they call it ‘buying a championship.’ The Lakers are known for doing that too,” Erving said.

“They’re getting all these pieces … They don’t know at the end of the season what it’s going to look like, but they’re going to be formidable. You’ve got a team with six former All-Stars, and three [All-NBA] guys who have been there and succeeded in the playoffs.”

And if these Nets have the league’s best record next season, the Heat would draft 30th and last in the first round in the 2022 draft, with draft slots for playoff teams in inverse order of regular season records.

As part of last month’s Victor Oladipo trade, Houston will receive the two most favorable of three 2022 first-round picks: its own, Brooklyn’s and the Heat’s, with Miami’s first-round pick protected for selections 1 to 14. The Heat will receive the least favorable of these three first-round picks, which would be Brooklyn’s selection if the Nets finish with the best record among those three teams next season.

If the Heat misses the playoffs next season, then Miami would keep its own 2022 lottery pick; Houston would keep its own pick and Brooklyn’s pick, plus the less favorable of Denver’s 2022 second-round pick and Philadelphia’s 2022 second-round pick originally owned by the Heat.

Of course, none of that minutiae matters to the Heat on Sunday, with its season at something of a crossroads.

INJURY UPDATE

Jimmy Butler was a late addition to the Heat’s injury report on Saturday night. He’s questionable for Sunday’s game with a sprained right ankle. Butler sustained the injury on Wednesday against Denver but played - and played well - Friday at Minnesota.

The Heat listed Victor Oladipo as out for Sunday’s 3:30 p.m. game against the visiting Nets. As of several days ago, the Heat and Oladipo hadn’t ruled out the possibility of Oladipo playing again this season, but both sides have declined to say if he definitely will play again this season.

The Heat is calling the injury “soreness” in his right knee, which was surgically repaired in 2019. He hasn’t played since limping off during the April 8 game against the Lakers.

Andre Iguodala (left hip soreness) is questionable for Sunday.