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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Brooklyn’s Championship Hopes Take a Big Blow

528288_10151661322365555_824596039_nWell, just when you thought this team was getting healthy, they get hit with a huge loss.  All-Star Center Brook Lopez has suffered another broken left foot.  It’s the 2nd time he’s broken it in 3 years, and will have his 3rd surgery on it in that span.  It’s a big blow, as the 25-year-old Lopez was averaging career-highs in points, field-goal percentage and free-throw percentage.  He also ranked seventh in the NBA in Player Efficiency Rating. The Nets are just 2-7 this season with   their big man out of the lineup.  Now this means the depth will be tested, with guys like Reggie Evans, who’d been out of rotation, to get minutes.  Thoughts are Brooklyn could go out and   make a trade for Houston Rockets back-up Omer Asik, but with no first round picks for the  next 6 years, that’s not likely.  So now it’s time for guys like Kevin Garnett and Andray Blatche to step up, and Deron Wiliams to play with pride and lead this team to the playoffs without their security blanket down low.  It’s still very possible in the weak Eastern Conference, but their dreams of a Championship are most likely over.

So with all that being said, let’s look at the week that was for the Nets, before the Lopez injury.

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Game 24: vs Philadelphia 

The week started off very well for the Nets, easily handling the Philadelphia 76ers at home 130-94, and without Brook Lopez, who was out then with a sprained ankle.  It was a wire-to-wire win, that was sparked by a 20-7 run to start the game.  It was just a 10 point lead at the half for Brooklyn.

But the story of the game, was the ridiculous 3rd quarter Joe Johnson put up.  29 points is a lot for this team to score int he 3rd quarter, their Achilles heel, so when Johnson scored 29 himself, it was a sight to see.  Brooklyn’s shooting-guard finished with a season high 37, hitting on 10-14 from 3.  He would’ve challenged the NBA record of 12, but there was no need for him to play at all in the 4th quarter.

6 Nets finished in double figures, a season high 35 assists in a game they shot 60% from the field and from 3.  The team hit a franchise record 21 shots from behind the arc, with Shaun Livingston hitting the record breaker, and he’s not known for his shot behind the arc.

  • Joe Johnson easily led all scorers with 37, Mason Plumlee pulled down 8 boards off the bench and Deron Williams with a season high 13 assists in a double-double performance.

W Sixers 94 – Nets 130

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Game 25: vs Washington

They were outplayed by a younger, quicker team. Plain and simple.

3 Nets scored 20+ including a season high 27 from Paul Pierce.  But 7 Wizards finished in double figures, and they out-rebounded Brooklyn 51-31.  Deeper into that number was the 23 second-chance points the Wizards scored to the Nets 3.

They couldn’t stop them, especially from 3 and when they did stop Washington, they weren’t fighting off the glass, and you can’t do that. Not at home and not when you’re many games under .500 in a season that had Championship aspirations. You can’t do it ever.

  • Paul Pierce led all scorers with 27, Joe Johnson had a team high 7 rebounds and Deron Williams with his 2nd 13 assist game.

L Wizards 113 – Nets 107

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Game 26: @ Philadelphia

There was revenge on the minds of the Sixers, and the Nets let them go through with it.  It was close throughout, though Brooklyn looked like they were going to pull away late.   The game featured 31 lead changes and 21 ties. Both teams made a number of big shots, especially in overtime.

The Nets had no answer in the paint, with Philly outscoring them 66-30.  It’s believed Brook Lopez suffered his injury in the 3rd quarter and kept playing, but he wasn’t his usual self in the first half of the game.  Brooklyn had their chances to score in the paint, but missed a lot of open looks.  The Sixers didn’t, and Evan Turner ‘s game winner came in the paint, as time expired in the overtime.

Paul Pierce had another good game, his first double-double of the year, but Brooklyn missed Joe Johnson, who was away from the team for personal reasons, and Kevin Garnett was resting.

  • Alan Anderson had a big game, leading the way with 26 points, Pierce pulled down 10 boards and the point guards were just that, on point. Deron Williams 3rd straight double figure assist total at 14, a new season high, and Shaun Livingston added another 11.

L Nets 120 – Sixers 121

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So it’s time to move on without Brook Lopez, who is officially out for the season.  And it comes before a tough Holiday week of games.  It starts tonight at home against the Pacers.  Then it’s a rematch of the playoffs when the Bulls come to Brooklyn on Christmas Day.  Then it’s a back-to-back on the road against Milwaukee on Friday and they finish it up Saturday night in Indiana.