After a fun first two rounds of the playoffs and here are, down to 4 teams. Out West you’ve for last years runner-up San Antonio Spurs, and MVP Kevin Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder. And of course in the East you have a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals. The top-seeded Indiana Pacers, and the 2-time reigning World Champion Miami heat. After a 5 1st round series going 7, the top 2 seeds in each conference have advanced, show just how hard it is for low seeds to make it through all 3 rounds of the playoffs leading up til the finals.
So here’s what I see happening we march one step closer to determining this years champion.
Eastern Conference Finals
(2) Miami Heat vs (1) Indiana Pacers
It’s the match-up we all predicted back when they were the only two East teams over .500. It’s the rematch the Pacers worked so hard to ensure would happen with home-court advantage after losing game 7 in Miami a year ago. Despite a bad 2nd half to the season, and a strange post-season, Indiana is here. Miami had a fairly easy road here in the first two rounds of the playoffs, and you know they don’t care if they have to go into Indy and win. They did show some stretches that could be concerning in their match-up against the Brooklyn Nets, but showed they still know how to execute late game situations better than most teams. So what happens? The Pacers biggest advantage comes in the front-court, if and only if, Roy Hibbert plays closer to his 28 point performance, and not his 0 point playoff performance. But LeBron James is the biggest advantage of them all, and to that how well Ray Allen has looked, and how healthy Dwyane Wade has looked, I’m not sure home-court comes into play here. So give me the Heat in 6.
Western Conference Finals
(2) Oklahoma City Thunder vs (1) San Antonio Spurs
In a super talented, hotly contested West, the top 2 seeds found a way to get it done and advance again. OKC’s defense has been spotty at times this postseason, but they’ve come up big when needed. The same can be said for San Antonio, though I think the Spurs look like the best team of the 4 left standing after shutting down the up-and-coming Portland Trailblazers squad. I’m most looking forward to the point-guard match-up in this one. Tony Parker has carried this team throughout the playoffs, and Russell Westbrook has been dominant offensively. It’ll be interesting to see which bench provides the most consistent spark. I picked the Thunder to win it all before the playoffs began, and I think OKC wins it in 7.
So that it, I think we’ve got a 2012 NBA Finals rematch on top, pitting the two best players on the planet and their deep teams against each other.
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.
(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!
Inside the Barclays Center Before Game 1 of the 2013 Playoffs
They entered the week 1-2, and coming off a bad loss to Orlando. And they leave week two with another 1-2 record and a 2-4 overall season record. This team is still trying to find themselves, specifically on the defensive end, and it showed this weekend.
Game 4: vs Utah
It was another strong start for the Nets, but this time Brooklyn never took the foot off the gas pedal, keeping the Jazz win-less on the season. Brook Lopez was a dominant presence down low from the start, and the Nets cruised to an easy 104-88 win on Tuesday.
Kevin Garnett said practice Monday was probably the hardest since training camp, following a bad blowout loss Sunday to a young Magic team. The team back up KG’s words with a big effort. It was such an easy win, that none of the starters took the floor in the 4th quarter. Rookie Center out of Duke, Mason Plumlee, made his NBA debut, showing his ever-present motor on loose balls, while scoring 5 minutes, grabbing 4 rebounds in 17 minutes. Everyone who dressed, played, allowing for the low use of their starters and main rotation players. Six Nets scored in double figures, while everyone who played, with the exception of Jason Terry, tallied a point. And no player played more than 26 minutes. Games like this will be very welcome throughout the season, especially with the age of this team.
For the 3rd time, Brook Lopez led the way with 27 points, as well as 7 boards, while Deron Williams dished out 8 assists.
W Jazz 88 – Nets 104
Game 5: @ Washington
For the 4th time in 5 games, Brooklyn jumped out to a big lead, and for the 2nd time, the Nets couldn’t close it out. They remain win-less on the road.
Brook Lopez got off to another hot start, with 18 points in the first half. But as is the case, the team got off to a bad start in the 3rd quarter, and Lopez only got one shot attempt off in the frame. Defensive stops were far and few between in the 2nd and 3rd quarter, and this was the definition of a game of runs. On the offensive end, Joe Johnson kept Brooklyn alive in the 3rd, while Kevin Garnett didn’t score until the 4th quarter, Paul Pierce was held scoreless until overtime. 3rd newcomer from Boston, Jason Terry, was big with a number of 3s in the 2nd half.
L Nets 108 – Wizards 112 (OT)
Game 6: vs Indiana
Well they didn’t get off to a quick start, both in the 1st and 3rd quarters, and this time around it meant another loss. Brooklyn suffered their first loss of the season to the undefeated Pacers, giving them their first losing streak of the year.
Brook Lopez faced his toughest match-up of the season in Indiana’s 7′ 2″ center Roy Hibbert, and it showed early on the offensive end. The Pacers entered as the best defensive team, and they showed why. They’re very good at rebounding and help defense. But the Nets may have exposed their one weakness, and that’s when Hibbert isn’t the on the floor. Lopez had his best moments early in the 4th before Hibbert returned.
They were without Andrei Kirilenko, who’s back spasms popped up again. Mason Plumlee played over Reggie Evans, and used his 15 minutes well. He showed energy and toughness in his time on the court, showing why Brooklyn used their lone draft pick on the Duke Center. Alan Anderson and Shaun Livingtson continue to bring energy and defense off the bench, showing they can pick up the slack and lead the “benchmob 2.0.”
It was a rare game where the Nets had to come back off a slow start, and they did a good job closing the 1st quarter deficit to just 2. A good 2nd gave them a half-time lead, but as per usual, they got down big to start the 3rd quarter. In the end, it was a 5 point loss. The atmosphere of game 6 was more like a playoff game. Both teams looked like teams that can go far. But you can tell that the core of the Pacers know each other and are just better right now. Brooklyn needs time to find their cohesion. They’ve shown they can beat the defending champs, and they can give other top teams, like Indiana, fits.
Deron Williams and Joe Johnson tied with a team high 17 points, Williams added 10 assists for his first double-double of the season and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett tied with 8 rebounds.
It’s early, and this team was 14-14 and last year, so it’s not time to panic. They’ve shown a lot of good things, and some not so good things through 6 games. Brooklyn is now off until Wednesday night when they start a 3 game West Coast road trip. Games in Sacrament, Phoenix and the Clippers await as the Nets look to get their first wins on the road, and get to .500 and beyond.