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Jim Mancari,


The Nets led the Miami Heat by 14 in the second quarter of Saturday night’s game and closed out the half up by nine.

With a repeat performance in the second half, the Nets would have been the proud owners of the number one seed in the Eastern Conference.

But after 12 second-half turnovers and a fourth quarter in which the Nets shot an abysmal 13 percent from the field, Brooklyn was handed a tough road loss.

The Nets proved that despite the recent string of success, they’re not quite in the same class as the Heat just yet. The results may have been different if Brook Lopez was healthy, so we’ll find out next time what the team is truly made of when at full-strength.

The loss dropped the Nets to 11-5, and all things considered, that's still a pretty good start. But the Nets need to ensure that the loss will not crush the team’s early momentum.

The Nets return to Barclays Center Tuesday night for a four-game homestand against tough competition. The Oklahoma City Thunder (Tuesday), the Golden State Warriors (Friday), and Milwaukee Bucks (Dec. 9)  will all visit Barclays Center before the New York Knicks return on Dec. 11.

Brooklyn is 7-1 at home this season, but the four game homestand is going to be tough.

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma City Thunder (14-4) come to town, and the defending Western Conference champions are not an easy win by any stretch. That's evidence by its 5-3 road record. It’s extremely rare for a team to square off against both of previous year’s NBA Finals teams in consecutive games, but that’s what the Nets are up against after losing to the Heat.

Kevin Durant (26.2 points per game) and Russell Westbrook (20.7 points per game) are third and sixth in the league in scoring, respectively. The Nets will have to pick up their perimeter defense to guard against three-pointers but also guard the paint, since these players can drive the basket as well.

With Brook Lopez’s status for the game in question, Andray Blatche will again be called upon to play a significant offensive role. He’s filled in admirably thus far, but he will be needed greatly against the Thunder.

From there, the Golden State Warriors (10-6) head to Brooklyn Friday night. The Warriors are off to a good start this season and have already beat the Nets out west. Maybe the home-court advantage will help Brooklyn earn the home win, but it’s no guarantee.

The Milwaukee Bucks (8-7) play the Nets Sunday evening. Just like the Nets, the Bucks have an impressive backcourt tandem of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings.

The Nets pursued Bucks’ power forward Ersan Ilyasova this past offseason before he agreed to a five-year, $40 million contract with Milwaukee. Ilyasova has been a thorn in the Nets’ side the past few seasons, recording three double-doubles in the past five meetings. On Feb. 19 of last season, he set career-highs of 29 points and 25 rebounds against the Nets.

Ilyasova has not been starting every game for Milwaukee, but when he’s in, the Nets need to be sure to contain him.

And on Dec. 11, the Nets square off with the Knicks in round two of the “Battle of New York City.” The Knicks were noticeably disappointed after losing the first matchup back on Nov. 26, so expect them to come out with plenty of fire.

Depending on how the rest of the home stand plays out, the game against the Knicks may be the closest thing to a must-win game in the month of December. If the Nets drop two of the first three games of the homestand, losing to the Knicks would not only make them 1-3 , it would also suggest that their early hot start was a fluke.

4-0 is probably the goal for the Nets over the next week, but it'll be a tall order considering the quality of competition. Even still, the Nets must bounce back from Saturday's loss in Miami strongly because that's what true contenders do.

Be sure to tune in this next week, as there will be some exciting basketball being played at Barclays Center.

Jim Mancari is a Contributor to Follow him on Twitter @JMMancari.

Tags: Brooklyn, upcoming schedule, Columns, NBA, brook lopez, kevin durant, Brooklyn Nets, thunder, nets schedule, warriors, ersan ilyasova, Bucks, nets, heat, knicks
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