- Matt Ehalt, ESPN New York contributor
- 0 Shares
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- On Nov. 1, the Nets looked like a team to be reckoned with, knocking off the Heat 101-100 in Brooklyn's home opener.
On the eve of the rematch Friday at Barclays Center, the Nets don't resemble a force anymore, looking more like a pretender than contender in the watered-down Eastern Conference.
Things have changed in the past two months.
"That [win] seems like a very, very long time ago," Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson said at practice Thursday. "Obviously we're a different team and we're trying to find our niche so to speak and take care of home court. This is definitely a big game for us."
The Nets have put together a season-best four-game win streak, and will try to recapture some of the magic from their first encounter with the Heat when Miami visits for the second of four meetings between the teams this season. The Nets recently defeated both Oklahoma City and Golden State.
"It's going to be a tough game. It's going to be playoff atmosphere. It's basically going to be a playoff game," Nets center Andray Blatche said. "We beat them before. They're going to be aggressive off the jump. Got to be just as aggressive."
After their active offseason headlined by acquiring Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Nets figured to be one of the top teams to challenge Miami in the East. In their second game, they showcased their potential with the win over Miami.
Since then, it's been a struggle. While the Heat enter Thursday's game against the Knicks at 27-8, the Nets have won just 13 games since. They've also been crippled with injuries, losing center Brook Lopez for the season after he underwent foot surgery, and point guard Deron Williams will be sidelined for his 14th game as his left foot continues to cause problems.
"Probably looking at two different teams from where we've gone and for them," Nets coach Jason Kidd said. "It's a matter of us continuing to do what we've been doing, get better at what we've been building on. Understand turnovers, you got to take care of the ball against the Heat. Also get good looks."
In beating Oklahoma City and Golden State, the Nets again hinted at their potential. They showed resiliency by coming back from 17 down to upset the Thunder, and were able to hold off a Golden State team that had won 10 straight.
With those Western Conference powers vanquished, the Nets will now see if they can keep it going against the reigning NBA champs.
"It's a big challenge. We're looking forward to it. We know we can compete with any team in this league," Johnson said. "Even with the fact that Deron's out, Brook's out, we got to go with the guys we got and guys have to step up. That's pretty much how it's been over the past four games."
1dMarc Stein and Mike Mazzeo