Hello Playoffs Part II – Preview & Predictions

Center Court - Game 1 2013 Playoffs vs Bulls

Center Court – Game 1 2013 Playoffs vs Bulls

Remember when the Brooklyn Nets were 10-21 and coming off an ugly blowout to the San Antonio Spurs on the final day of 2013? Remember when they opened up 2014 with a Joe Johnson game-winner over the Oklahoma City Thunder the next day?

Sound familiar?  It should. Except for a slightly better record to start things out last year, it’s the same thing that happened last season during the Nets inaugural season in Brooklyn.  Two years in a row this team has turned things around after a blowout loss and a big win over the top teams in the Western Conference.
Last year Brooklyn  finished the regular season at 49-33.  They were never 11 games under last season, and yet only finished with 5 more losses than this year. Two different teams in may ways? Sure.  But they do share similar regular season story-lines.
However, that is where the similarities end.  Because what we thought would be a rematch of the Bulls-Nets series of a year ago, has turned into a 3-6 match-up between division foes.  A rough end to the season for Brooklyn dropped them to the 6th seat and into a 1st round bout with the Toronto Raptors.
The two teams split the season series 2-2, and boy was their final match-up of the regular season exciting.  Yours truly was there in person, and when I say it’s one of the best basketball games I’ve ever seen, I’m not exaggerating.  Runs, big shot after big shot by both clubs ending in a Nets 101-9 win at Barclays Center.
Toronto wasn’t supposed to be here.  Going into the season, thoughts were they’d tank the season and hope to get a top 3 pick in this years loaded draft, and maybe land Canadian star Andrew Wiggins.  That was made, what we thought more evident when the Raptors traded away Rudy Gay early in the season.  Yet here we are, getting ready to watch them host a first round match-up as Atlantic Division Champs.  Kyle Lowry and DeMar Derozan pu this team on their athletic backs and drove them into the postseason.
Athletic. Young. And hungry.  That’s the Toronto Raptors in a nutshell.  And the Nets should be afraid.  What couldve been a defensive battle has turned into an offensive slug-fest.  Both teams have been crazy good in 2014, but as the Nets limp into the playoffs, the Raptors have continued their hot play.  Inexperience up and down the lineup has to do battle with the veteran laden Nets squad.
For Brooklyn to have success, they have to limit turnovers.  Toronto’s speed can turn those into easy buckets in transition.  Not to mention Mason Plumlee, Kevin Garnett and (if he gets minutes), Andray Blatche have to do work down low.  Without Brook Lopez, they’ve been limited as far as having a rim defender, and though he’s not a great rebounding big man, Lopez makes you work for 2nd chance opportunities.  The Raptors front court of Jonas Valanciunas, Amir Johnson and Terrence Ross are quick, strong and not afraid to attack the paint.
But for me, the biggest match-up comes in the back court.  Lowry and DeRozan are one of the better scoring back-courts in the league.  Deron Williams has issues defending smaller, quicker guards, though Shaun Livingston’s presence will help.
So are the Nets better off in the 6th or would they have been better suited for that rematch with the Chicago Bulls?  Only time will tell, but I think if both teams play to the high levels seen since January, you can bet it’s going to be a fun and intense series.

So what will be some of the keys heading into this series if the Nets want to avoid being knocked out by the Bulls in two consecutive seasons?

  • Kevin Garnett must be healthy. You don’t need 30 minutes from him with Mason Plumlee playing well, but KG’s still a great defensive player, and their only real rim defender. He also has a fire that burns even brighter in the playoffs. This is why he was brought over in the off-season. Since returning from the back spasms, he’s looked very good.  Maybe the time off his legs will mean big performances coming up.
  • Deron Williams needs to be on every game.  Remember when he carried this team to the playoffs last season? He’s shown flashes of that player this season, but needs to show it more than once or twice a week. Shaun Livingston has been remarkable this season, but Brooklyn only goes as far as D-Will and his max contract can take them.
  • Mirza Teletovic and/or Marcus Thornton need to be consistent sparks off the bench. The Bulls can defend with the best of them, but when these players get hot, it doesn’t matter who is on them.  If they can come in, especially if the starters get off to a slow start, and hit a couple of 3s quickly, this team can possibly rattle a young Raptors squad.
  • Plumlee and Livingston need to limit the bad early fouls.  They’re too important to be on the bench too quickly.  The rookie is the energy of this front court, while Shaun is the same in the back.  Starting alongside Williams means you’ve got your two best ball handlers on the court for a majority of the game, and while Alan Anderson and Joe Johnson can handle the rock, that’s not what you want too often.   And as for Plumlee, this team isn’t deep at center, especially if you have to limit KG’s minutes.
  • Paul Pierce. Like KG, his postseason pedigree is a huge reason why he was traded for, and he’s shown he can still carry a team on his back.  If he gets established early, look  out.
  • And the biggest one? Rebounding. They’re a terrible rebounding team, but they still find ways to win.  Brooklyn has to try to limit Noah and Boozer from killing them too badly on the boards.  The Nets ability to force  turnovers will have to help counter act this.

There’s no reason this version of the Brooklyn Nets shouldn’t make it out of the first round.    The biggest problem last season was toughness.  Chicago manhandled every person that took the court for Brooklyn.  While this team is perceived as “old,” they’ve shown they’re not afraid of anyone.   They’ve looked better overall this season in that department, and should get past their division foes.  Falling back to 6 also means advancing on would mean a possible 2nd round date with the Miami Heat, who they were 4-0 against, as opposed to seeing Indiana, who they dropped all 4 against in the regular season.

So how far do you think the Nets go? Let your voice be heard and vote on the poll below.

With all that being said, here’s how I see the playoffs going from start to finish.

Eastern Conference Round 1                         Western Conference Round 1            

(1) Indiana  vs (8) Atlanta – Pacers in 5                      (1) San Antonio vs (8) Dallas – Spurs in 5

(2) Miami vs (7) Charlotte  – Heat in 5                           (2) Oklahoma City vs (7) Memphis – Thunder in 6

(3) Toronto vs (6) Brooklyn – Nets in 6                           (3) LA vs (6) Golden State – Clips in 6

(4) Chicago vs (5) Washington – Bulls in 6                (4) Houston vs (5) Portland – Rockets in 6

  • Toronto wasn’t supposed to be here, they were thought to be rebuilding.  Yet here they are, the 3 seed and Atlantic Division champs.  And Washington hadn’t been over .500 since 2009-2010, and started off the season just as bad as Brooklyn did. And out west, the Clippers and Warriors hate each other. Both can run, both have deadly shooters who can get hot quickly.  And don’t get me started on their point guards. But for second straight season, Golden State will be without their best post defender in Andrew Bogut, and I see the size of DeAndre Jordan, Blake Griffin and Glen Perkins just being too much for the Warriors to overcome.  Memphis is hot coming in, but the Spurs aren’t going down in round one, and neither with OKC.  Houston plays little defense, and Portland isn’t any better.  Give me Dwight Howard, Chandler Parson and James Harden any day over LaMarcus Aldridge, Damian Lillard and Wes Matthews.  Indy has been struggling, but the Hawks tried with all their might not to make it to the postseason, and I think the Pacers will make it look easy.  Charlotte might give Miami issues, but I don’t see much more than 1 win and a bunch of close losses.

Eastern Conference Round 2                        Western Conference Round 2

(1) Indiana vs (3) Chicago – Chicago in 7                  (1) San Antonio vs (4) Houston – Spurs in 6

(2) Miami vs (5) Brooklyn – Heat in 6                          (2) OKC vs (4) Clippers – Thunder in 6

  • I wanted to pick the Nets, and if they’d closed out on a higher note, I would have. But I they get past the 1st round and no more.  Miami will find a way to make the plays they didn’t down the stretch, especially with a healthy Wade on the floor.  The Pacers can’t score, but neither can the Bulls.  But Chicago’s defense is just better, and I think they find a way.  Out west it should be a lot of fun, but the Spurs are better defensively and I just think it’s the Thunder’s time.  LA and Chris Paul need a 2nd round appearance, but I think next year is a better year for the Clips to make it any further.

Eastern Conference Finals                    Western Conference Finals

(1) Miami vs (3) Chicago – Heat in 6                 (1) San Antonio vs (2) Oklahoma City – Thunder in 6

  • Chicago’s good luck runs out.  I can’t pick against Miami at home.  OKC match-ups up better than any of the other 28 teams in the league with San Antonio, and despite not holding home court, I see a rematch of the 2012 Finals.

NBA Finals  

(1) Oklahoma City vs (2) Miami – THUNDER WIN in 7

  •  I think it’s time for my 2013-14 MVP, Kevin Durant, to win his first ring, and I think he gets it.  The Heat might make a 4th straight finals, but they’re going to be tired.  The Westbrook injury was a blessing in disguise for OKC.  It means fresh legs, the bench will be ready to pick up the slack and the sidekick Durant was missing last season.  And if it should be Spurs in the finals, I say revenge for last season.  The West has been miles ahead of the East all year, and I think it means a championship for whatever team gets out.

So that’s it. Nothing left to do but sit back and watch a whole lot of really good basketball for the next month and a half. Oh the horror!

And here’s a not so shameless plug on my personal blog – stick with Sirius XM NBA Radio Channel 217 and on the Sirius XM App before and after games for great analysis and guests throughout the postseason and beyond.

Enjoy the run towards a ring everyone. May the best team win!

 

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Things Might Finally Be Turning Around For Brooklyn

A 3-game win streak means they had their best week of the season, at 2-1 (1st win came last week).  The return of Deron Williams sparked the winning, but another injury to Brook Lopez was a big reason for the streak being stopped on Friday against the Pistons.

Game 21: vs Boston

It was the first time Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett faced off against their former team.  Pierce came back from a fractured hand, and KG was a big reason they held on down the stretch.  It was also the return of Deron Williams, and he helped take down the Atlantic division leading Celtics.  For once they got they off to a fast start, and did a decent job maintaining their lead.

Williams first game back saw him lead all scorers as the Nets shot nearly 56% percent from the field.  Brook Lopez also continued his hot play, hitting 10 of his 13 attempts.  The best part of the game was the fact that they came out with energy from the start and kept it up all game, which allowed Brooklyn to maintain their lead throughout.

The win capped off a strange 3 game sequence in the all-under .500 division.  The Nets were blown out by the Knicks who were then blown out by Boston, who then lost this game to Brooklyn.

  • Deron Williams with game high honors – 25 points, Garnett pulled down 9 boards and Williams added a team high 7 assists in his return.

W Celtics 94 – Nets 106

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Game 22: vs Los Angeles

The Clippers looked like they were going to walk all over the Nets early, but after a quick double-digit lead, Brooklyn got the 1st quarter deficit down to just 5.  Then they took over, outscoring LA 63-37 in the 2nd and 3rd quarters in route to a 102-3 win.  It’s their best win since taking down the Heat for their first game of the season, especially with how the Clippers had been playing defensively the past week weeks.

5 Nets finished in double figures, and while the Clippers shot an astounding 52-free throws, Brooklyn hit 93% of theirs from the charity stripe, while LA only made 67%.  It was a good defensive showing against a high-powered offense, but it didn’t come without a cost.  Brook Lopez, who had been hitting his stride coming off a left ankle sprain, left the game after re-injuring the ankle in the 3rd.  Hopefully for Brooklyn, their big man will return quickly, because this win showed just how good this team can be when healthy.

  • Joe Johnson and Andray Blatche tied for game-high honors with 21 points, Blatche added a team high 9 rebounds and Pierce added 5 assists off the bench.

W Clippers 102 – Nets 93

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Game 23: @ Detroit

The end of the back-to-back didn’t go well.  Missing Lopez again, the Pistons took full advantage down low, taking a double-digit lead early, outscoring Brooklyn by 18 in the 3rd quarter and holding on late.

Blatche continues to play well off the bench, but the loss of Lopez really showed in this one.  Reggie Evans started in his place, and showed why he was out of the rotation completely.  Not to mention along with Garnett and Alan Anderson, 3 of Brooklyn’s 5 starters combined for just 12 points.  The defense was non-existent in the 2nd quarter, and two Piston big men had tallied double-doubles.

So much for using a big win at home to launch them on a nice long winning streak.

  • Deron Williams lead the way for the 2nd time in his 3rd game back with 22 points and 9 assists, while Blatche had a double-double off the bench, 20-points and 12 boards.

Nets 99 – Pistons 103

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So while the finale to the week didn’t go well, there is a difference with Williams on the floor, and from the start he looks to be completely healthy.  Lopez sat Friday, but the Nets say it was for precautionary reasons.  With both days off this weekend, their big man gets 3 days to rest the ankle and should be good to go when they take on the Sixers at home on Monday and the Wizards on Wednesday.  Then Brooklyn hits the road to take on the Sixers in their building.

NBA: The Nets Can’t Find Any Consistency

Coming off their best week of the season at 2-2, the Nets looked to get on track with a home-heavy schedule in December.  Instead, they continued to leave their defense in 2012.  This team is not good on either end of the floor right now, and really need their starting point-guard back.  Deron WIlliams showed in the second half of last season how good this team can be when him and Brook Lopez are on the floor together, day-in and day-out.  And when Williams, Lopez, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were on the floor together early on, is when you saw the best from this team.  Wins against Miami and hard-fought defensive battles with Indiana were proof. It was depth injuries and unfamiliarity than that plagued this team.  Now its injuries on all fronts, and a lack of energy, especially on the defensive end.  Now here’s a look back at this weeks 3 games.

Game 18: vs Denver

It was a chance to prove themselves against a good team, finally start a win streak, and make a push at home.  Instead, it turned into another blowout.  They couldn’t defend, they couldn’t keep up with the young, fast Nuggets, and they couldn’t rebound.  All recipes for disaster.  Not to mention another horrible 3rd quarter, the norm for this team.

The Nets actually got off to a good start, winning the 1st quarter, but the Nuggest defense got hot, as did their everything on offense, scoring 31 in both the 2nd and 3rd quarters.  It didn’t help that Brook Lopez was not good, on either end, and that never ends well for Brooklyn. Their all-star center allowed Timofey Mozgov to have a crazy night, 17 points and 20 rebounds.

  • Joe Johnson with a team high 22, Kevin Garnett and Andray Blatche both pulled down 6 boards, and Shaun Livingston led the way with 4 assists.

L Nuggets 111 – Nets 87

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Game 19: vs New York

The two teams entered action a combined 8-26, but the final score made the Knicks look like a top team, and the Nets the near bottom-dwellers that they are so far.  Another poor start by Brooklyn saw them down as many as 15 in the 1st quarter once again.  They would finish the quarter down 7, and play an even 2nd to keep it a game.  Then the dreaded 3rd quarter hit.  Iman Shumpert, who’s been inconsistent for New York, went off as a part of the Knicks domination of the 3rd quarter, outscoring Brooklyn by himself.

Early on, it looked like Brook Lopez might be able to dominate down low, as he should’ve, with New York missing their star center Tyson Chandler.  But poor shooting early, along with foul trouble, held back Lopez from what could’ve been a monster effort.  Add to that another night of poor 3-point defense, and you can see why the Nets were blown out again, in their own building, against a then 3-win team.

Make it two straight games of allowing over a 110 points for this very bad Brooklyn defense.  Not only was the effort on the court lacking again, the fan support wasn’t there either, as from the introductions, the black and white of Barclays Center, was dominated by the blue and orange.  It was a bad night all around.

  • Brook Lopez did lead the way in scoring, putting up 20 to go with his team high 9 rebounds.  A poor assist night meant Andray Blatche’s 3 were the most by a Net in the blowout.

L Knicks 113 – Nets 83

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Game 20: @ Milwaukee

It wasn’t pretty, but who cares?  The Nets needed a win, and they picked one up on the road to end the week.  Brook Lopez was the reason why, carrying the team with 20 of their 39 1st half points.  Lopez needed an effort like that, after a bad start to the week.

Another win means another won 3rd quarter.  Alan Anderson and Joe Johnson helped Lopez out in that quarter, both finishing in double figures.  The Nets did a good job handling the rock, turning it over just 8 times.  Another bad night shooting the 3, but the ones they did hit came in big spots to help build a 2nd half lead.  The defense showed up for once, and my favorite part, is they took advantage of the mismatch down low.  See Lopez’s night.  He knew he was bigger and stronger, and the Nets got him the ball for 13 field-goal attempts.  They have to do a better job of this, as Lopez is bigger than most centers in the league.  And he’s starting to play like that.

  • Brook Lopez with a season high 32 points, Andray Blatche and Kevin Garnett again tied for a team high 8 rebounds and Joe Johnson led with 5 dimes.

W Nets 90 – Bucks 82

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So they enter week 2 of December at 6-14. A big test awaits on Tuesday at home, as the Atlantic leading Celtics come to Brooklyn.  Boston is only 9-12, but lead the weak division and of course have half the 2012-2013 Nets on their roster after the Pierce/Garnett deal.  Pierce of course will miss the first game against his old team with his fractured finger, but Garnett is sure to be fired up for it.  Then the Clippers come in on Thursday.  Brooklyn then hits the road for a game in Detroit to finish up the week on Friday.  Revenge should be on the Nets minds for those 2 matchups, as they lost to both already this year.

NBA: Nets Find A Way to Finally Go 2-2

It wasn’t easy, but the Nets finally had an okay week.  They went 2-2 for the first time all season, bringing their season record to 5-12.  They got their all-star center back, and saw growth from two 2nd year players.  The best part though could be that the 2 wins came on the road.

Game 14: @ Toronto

They don’t make it easy on themselves, but they picked up a much-needed win to snap their 5-game skid.  Brook Lopez missed his 7th straight, Deron Williams was also out for his 6th out of the last 7.  They came out with energy, something that doesn’t always happen, and they kept it.  Another thing that doesn’t always happen.  They found a way, thanks in part to Joe Johnson, to win the 3rd quarter.  They’re now 4-0 when they win the dreaded 3rd.

It was a close game throughout, though Brooklyn held a 13 point lead late, giving the impression they;d pick up an easy win.  Wrong. Leading 101-86 with 3:13 left Steve Novak was fouled on a 3-point attempt, sparking a 14-1 Raptors run to end the game.  Toronto ran out of time, and Brooklyn snuck out of Air Canada Centre with the 2-point win.

4 starters finished in double figures for the 6th time this season.  They got a lot of big minutes from guys like Mason Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic off the bench as they shortened their rotation just a bit.

  • For the 3rd game out of the last 4, Andray Blatche led the team with 24-points, 6 boards from Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson and Shaun Livingston, who added 7 assists.

W Nets 102 – Raptors 100

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Game 15: vs Los Angeles

The Lakers shot Brooklyn out of their house in the 1st quarter, but then the Nets responded in the 2nd to make a once 25 point lead manageable at the half.  A key reason for Los Angeles taking a quick 27-point lead was the shooting of back up point guard Jordan Farmar.  The former New Jersey Net went 5-7 from 3 in his first game against his old team since 2010.  But the law of averages came into play in the 2nd half, because the Lakers hot shooting came to a halt, and the Nets took advantage, tying up the Lakers late in the 4th.  But that’s when it all changed.

For the 2nd straight day, the offense went ice-cold in the final 3 minutes of the game, and t he sloppy play took over.  Tied 92-92 with under 2 to play, after a number of missed bunnies down low by Brooklyn, Paul pierce decided to run the offense through himself, made a lazy pass that was taken back by Wesley Johnson for the go-ahead score.  To make matters worse, Jason Kidd showed he was willing to do anything to win, and by anything, I mean telling Tyshawn Taylor to “hit me.”  Listening to his head coach, Taylor knocked into him, causing Kidd to spill his drink, and essentially get an extra time out, down 2, with a Laker at the line looking to make it a 3 point lead with 8.3 seconds left to play.  Add to that the fact that no one on the Brooklyn Bench seemed to notice two LA players in their final huddle, and it all turned into a 5-point loss.

Mirza Teletovic had by far his best game of his NBA career, a much welcome sight for fans and management alike.  The 2nd year pro went 4-7 from the 3-point line, added 5-5 from the charity stripe as well as 5 rebounds.  His spark off the bench was key in the huge comeback the Nets put together.  Mason Plumlee continues to impress, blocking four shots in just under 21 minutes of action.

  • Joe Johnson led 5 double-figure scorers with 18, Kevin Garnett led the way with 9 boards and Paul Pierce dished out a team high 5 assists.

L Lakers 99 – Nets 94

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Game 16: @ Houston

Brook Lopez made his return, as Kevin Garnett sat in a 114-95 drubbing by the Houston Rockets.  Lopez looked like he didn’t miss a beat after missing 8 games, scoring 16 points in 21 minutes of action.  Garnett was just given the front half of a back-to-back off, no injury there.  But getting their big man back didn’t help.  This team’s inability to start the 2nd half well has now found its way to the 1st quarter.  The defense out of the locker room is starting to really hurt, and it’s not just out of half anymore.  You can’t be down double digits after 12 minutes every game and expect to go on a run.

The Rockets high-scoring ability, coupled with Brooklyn’s poor defense to start the season, this one got ugly early.  They are having real trouble defending the three-point line of late, proved true by a 6-6 performance behind the arc from Houston’s Chandler Parsons.  The Rockets as a team shot near 60% as a team from 3, something that can’t happen, especially when you yourselves hit just 27% of your three-point attempts.  This game really was all about the difference in the two teams ability to shoot the basketball.  The Nets did a good job limiting turnovers, and free-throw attempts, as well as rebounding the basketball, but it didn’t matter.

  • Aside from the return of a healthy Brook Lopez, Mirza Teletovic’s 1st career double-double of 18 point and 13 rebounds to go with 2nd year point guard Tyshawn Taylor’s 1st.  Taylor finished with 16 points and a team high 12 assists.

L Nets 95 – Rockets 114

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Game 17: @ Memphis

For the first time this week, the Nets got off to a pretty good start.  And guess what, in picking up their 5th victory, they also got their first win when losing the 3rd quarter.  I’d call that progress.  Brook Lopez made his 2nd straight start back from injury, and after a quiet first half, he helped put the game away in the 4th.  The Nets now have more wins on the road than they do at home, though they’ve played more games on the road than home early on.  That will change in December.

It was a rare bad night for bench player Alan Anderson, who started in place of the injured Paul Pierce, who sat with a right hand.  Anderson has provided good defense and an ability to hit the 3 early on off the bench, but went 0-6 as a starter.  The scoring mainly came from 3 guys, with Blatche, Lopez and Johnson combining 67 of Brooklyn’s 97 points.  But the offense did well despite that, with nearly everyone registering an assist and a rebound, and they took a lot of free throw attempts.  The Grizzlies are a good defensive team, and the Nets found different ways to score.  Not to mention that Blatche went 3-3 from behind the arc, a career high.  That’s not the game you want him playing, but they went down, so the Nets will take it.  The Grizzlies were led by Quincy Pondexter’s career-high 22 off the bench.

  • Joe Johnson continues to shine in 2013, leading the team in points with 26, as well as 6 assists while Brook Lopez pulled down 9 boards.

W Nets 97 – Grizzlies 89

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 So they’re still not where they want to be, but this week was a step in the right direction.  Now they have a chance to make up some ground with a majority of their games in this month at home in Brooklyn.  December play starts  Tuesday against Denver.  Then their first of four with the Knicks on Thursday, a match-up that isn’t as anticipated as it would be with both teams sitting at the bottom of the Atlantic.  But with these two teams, throw away the records.   The week wraps Saturday on the road against Milwaukee.