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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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.