The Brooklyn Nets, the NBA’s unofficial leaders in major headlines, are set to visit the Miami Heat on Sunday night.
Since signing superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving as free agents in the summer of 2019, the spotlight has been squarely on the Nets.
So far, there have been no ticker-tape parades or even one trip to the Eastern Conference finals for the Nets, who have made news the past two years by — among other things, acquiring James Harden and trading him 13 months later, as well as denying Durant’s trade request.
In November, Steve Nash stepped down as coach. In addition, Irving has been a controversy magnet with his “flat earth” talk, his refusal to get the COVID vaccine and then an anti-Semitic tweet.
Now, though, the Nets are finally on a roll, winning 13 of their past 14 games, including Friday’s 108-102 win over the New Orleans Pelicans. They’re making headlines for the right reasons.
Durant, who is averaging 30.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists this season, said he is not surprised his Nets survived their latest controversy — the one regarding Irving’s social media comments.
“Coming into training camp, we understood there was going to be a lot on us from a media standpoint,” Durant told ESPN.com. “We were able to take the Kyrie stuff and move in stride because we were already stuck together.”
Durant is shooting an NBA-best 93.5 percent from the free-throw line, 62.4 percent on 2-point attempts and 37.6 percent on 3-point tries.
Irving is averaging 25.9 points and 4.7 assists while playing 29 of Brooklyn’s 39 games. He is shooting 91.2 percent from the charity stripe, 58.0 percent on 2-point attempts and 36.4 percent from long range.
The Nets are 24-8 since Jacque Vaughn replaced Nash as coach.
Meanwhile, the Heat are coming off a 3-2 road trip that culminated with a 104-96 win over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night. Reserve guard Victor Oladipo led Miami with a season-high 26 points, making 7 of 10 shots overall, including 4-for-6 on 3-point attempts.
An All-Star for the Indiana Pacers in 2018 and 2019, Oladipo has been limited to a total of just 74 games over the past four seasons due to a string of serious injuries.
But he was able to provide a lift on Friday for the Heat, who were missing several injured players, including Tyler Herro (back spasms), Caleb Martin (quad), Duncan Robinson (finger), Dewayne Dedmon (foot) and Nikola Jovic (back).
Oladipo has played 14 games this season, averaging 11.1 points, 3.1 assists and 1.6 steals.
“Vic’s an X-factor for us on both sides of the floor,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s getting more comfortable and confident. We haven’t forgotten who he was (as an NBA All-Star). We enjoy being on this journey with him.”
The Heat after a slow start this season, are 9-4 in their past 13 games to finally push themselves over .500 at 21-19.
Now comes a tough four-game homestand that includes the Nets and two games against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Nets and Bucks entered the weekend with two of the top-five records in the NBA.
Miami is hoping to have Herro ready on Sunday. He is averaging 21.1 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.
The Heat are otherwise led by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo. Butler is averaging 21.4 points and team highs in assists (5.7) and steals (2.2). Adebayo is averaging 21.8 points and 10.0 rebounds, both best on the team.
–Field Level Media