The Brooklyn Nets, who have lost seven straight games — including two in overtime — will play host to the Miami Heat on Friday night.
Among Brooklyn’s problems are the shoulder injury that has sidelined leading scorer Kyrie Irving, who is averaging 28.5 points in 11 games. In addition, star forward Kevin Durant is expected to miss the entire season following foot surgery, and second-leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie is in the middle of a slump.
Dinwiddie, who is averaging 22.4 points, has shot just 36.4 percent during this losing streak, including 22.0 percent on 3-pointers.
The good news for the Nets is the return of guard Caris LeVert, who missed eight weeks following thumb surgery.
LeVert, who is averaging 16.7 points and is third on the team’s scoring chart, has played two games since his return, but he is on a minutes restriction. Since returning on Saturday, LeVert scored 13 points in nearly 16 minutes, rested the next game and then scored 20 points in 22 minutes on Tuesday.
“I’m a competitor — I want to play,” said LeVert, who got into just 40 games last season due to a foot injury. “But I trust the coaches.”
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said LeVert will eventually join the starting lineup. Until then, the Nets are starting Dinwiddie and Joe Harris at guard and a frontcourt of 6-7 Taurean Prince, 6-9 Rodions Kurucs and 6-11 Jarrett Allen.
Harris led the NBA last season in 3-point shooting (47.4 percent) and is making 41.8 percent this season; Allen leads the Nets in rebounds (9.8; tied with DeAndre Jordan) and blocks (1.3); and Prince is considered a defensive ace.
Even so, the Nets are clearly biding their time until the healthy return of Durant and Irving, who combined have earned 16 All-Star berths and three NBA titles.
But, while the Nets wait, Miami is clearly going for it this season. The Heat have one of the best home records in the NBA at 17-1 and improved to 10-9 on the road with their decisive 122-108 win over the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.
Heat shooting guard Jimmy Butler, who leads the team in points (20.2), assists (6.6) and steals (2.0), returned on Wednesday after missing one game due to back pain.
Butler not only contributed 14 points, seven assists and six rebounds, he also shut down Pacers standout T.J. Warren, holding him to three points in 23 minutes.
In his previous game, Warren had scored 36 points against the Charlotte Hornets, but Butler clearly had him frustrated.
“It’s tough for him because I can guard him, and he can’t guard me,” Butler said after Warren was ejected in the game following trash talk. “What (Warren) said was truly disrespectful. … He’s soft. He’s not even in my league.”
Clearly, Butler was motivated in this game, but the same thing can be said for the Heat on this road trip that includes the visit to Brooklyn.
Prior to the Heat departing Miami, coach Erik Spoelstra said his club had been “mediocre” on the road.
“We didn’t appreciate that,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “We tried to prove him wrong.”
The Heat, for at least one night, did just that, but the next challenge will be against the Nets, who are 9-8 at home.
In their only previous meeting this season, the Heat beat the Nets 109-106 on Dec. 1. Dinwiddie scored 29 points in that game, and Harris had 25. For Miami, Goran Dragic came off the bench to score 24 points, and Butler added 20. Adebayo had 17 points and 16 rebounds.
–Field Level Media