The defending NBA champions, the Miami Heat, host the Brooklyn Nets tonight in what could be a preview for an Eastern Conference playoff matchup.
"They have a really good team," said LeBron James. "From the outside looking in, it seems they have a pretty cool owner. A mentor of mine is a part owner of the team, so I know he's cool. I think that's a good thing for them."
The Heat right now are scoring at an alarming pace. Even including the 84- point dud in their loss to the New York Knicks, the Heat have scored 447 points in the first four games of the season. That is a franchise record and Miami averages 121 ppg in their three victories, all at home. The Heat have also shot at least 50 percent from the field in their wins.
Defensively, things haven't gone well for the defending champions. The Heat have surrendered over 100 points three times and twice, teams have shot over 50 percent from the field.
"For us, we understand that in order for us to win a championship, we have to defend," said James.
Another source of strength for the Heat has been their bench, especially Ray Allen. The NBA's all-time leader in 3-pointers made is averaging 15.5 ppg and is shooting 60 percent from beyond the arc. Rashard Lewis hasn't been a slouch either with 8.5 ppg from the bench and 50 percent shooting from the 3-point line.
For the Nets, this is their first venture outside of Brooklyn. After their highly-anticipated season debut against the Knicks was canceled due to Hurricane Sandy, they split two home games. They beat the Toronto Raptors, 107-100, then let one get away, blowing a 22-point lead against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"We just relaxed defensively," said head coach Avery Johnson. "Defensively, we have a long way to go. We have a lot of stuff to watch, a lot of correctable errors."
Good luck correcting them against the Heat.
Offense hasn't been the Nets' problem, so far.
Brooklyn currently ranks eighth in the NBA in points per game and is third in 3-point shooting. The All-Star backcourt of Deron Williams (18.5 ppg, 11 apg.) and Joe Johnson (16.5 ppg.) has done well, but big man Brook Lopez has been sensational. He is averaging 20 points and seven rebounds.
Forward Gerard Wallace sprained his left ankle in the season opener, didn't play against Minnesota and his availability for tonight is in question. He would be charged with guarding James if he played.
The Heat have won 10 in a row against the Nets and 13 of the last 14. The Nets have won three of their last five road openers.