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How Brooklyn Nets Match Up Against Every Potential Conference Playoff Opponent

Andrew KippContributor IIAugust 28, 2016

How Brooklyn Nets Match Up Against Every Potential Conference Playoff Opponent

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    The NBA playoffs are finally in sight and it’s time to examine how the Brooklyn Nets (45-32) match up against the other postseason-bound teams in the Eastern Conference.

    If the season ended tonight, the No. 4-seed Nets would square off against the No. 5-seed Chicago Bulls in the first round. However, a first-round date with the Atlanta Hawks remains a real possibility. The Hawks trail the Bulls by just one game with five games left in the regular season.

    The Nets won’t admit it, but it’s safe to say they’d prefer a first-round matchup with Atlanta to taking on a very nasty and physical Chicago squad.

    If the Nets take care of business in round one, they will play the winner of the Milwaukee Bucks-Miami Heat series, which is all but set in stone. Barring the biggest upset in NBA playoff history, Miami will be waiting in the second round.

    On the other side of the bracket, the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers appear primed for a second-round clash. The winner of that series will earn a spot in the Eastern Conference finals.

    Just three-and-a-half games separate the fifth, sixth and seventh seeds, so the picture in the East is still muddled. Whichever way things play out, the Nets will definitely have a tough road to the NBA Finals.

Milwaukee Bucks (37-40)

2 of 8

    Current Seed: 8

    Regular Season Series: Split 2-2

    Key Matchup to Watch: Deron Williams vs. Brandon Jennings

    This will be a great matchup between two of the more talented point guards in the Eastern Conference.

    Deron Williams has been playing like a superstar during the second half of the season. He’s averaged 23 points on 48 percent shooting since the All-Star break. In his last two games, D-Will is averaging 31 points on 58.8 percent shooting.

    Brandon Jennings has had a solid 2012-13, averaging 17.7 points on 40 percent shooting. He’s also averaging a career-high 6.7 assists. He recorded at least 10 dimes in seven games during the month of March.

    At 6’3”, 210 pounds, D-Will brings a lot of size and strength to the point guard position, while the 6’1”, 170-pound Jennings is exceptionally quick and crafty. Both are capable of scoring 30 points on a given night.


    X-Factor: Monta Ellis

    Monta Ellis is one of the best pure scorers in the NBA. He’s capable of scoring 50 points in the blink of an eye.

    If he gets hot, he could swing the momentum of a series.

    Ellis is somewhat of a hybrid. He’s not exactly a point guard and he’s not exactly a shooting guard. In 2012-13 he’s averaging 19.3 points and six assists on 42 percent shooting. He recorded a combined 44 points and 12 assists in the Bucks' two wins over the Nets.


    Best Strategy for the Nets:

    Defending Jennings and Ellis is the key to shutting down the Bucks offense. The Nets will have to put pressure on the Milwaukee guards at the three-point line and double team them when necessary. They cannot let them get into a rhythm.

    On offense Brooklyn needs to exploit the size advantage Williams and Joe Johnson have over Jennings and Ellis. Getting the ball to D-Will and Johnson in the post and the paint area will be crucial.


    Concerns for Nets:

    The biggest concern for the Nets defense is Jennings and Ellis.

    The biggest concern for their offense is Bucks center Larry Sanders. Sanders is averaging 2.9 blocks per game. Brook Lopez and Reggie Evans must be aggressive inside and cannot hesitate when presented with an open look.

Boston Celtics (40-37)

3 of 8

    Current Seed: 7

    Regular Season Series: Nets 2-1

    Key Matchup to Watch: Gerald Wallace vs. Jeff Green

    Jeff Green has emerged as the Celtics' most complete player in the wake of injuries to Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. He’s averaging 20.4 points, 5.8 rebounds and 2.2 assists over his last five games.

    He’s also Boston’s best defender. Like Gerald Wallace, Green is relied upon to shut down the opposing team’s best offensive player on a nightly basis.

    Wallace has struggled offensively this season, but he’s still the Nets' best defender. He’ll be relied upon to slow down Green, particularly in transition.


    X-Factor: Kevin Garnett

    Since arriving in Boston in 2007, Kevin Garnett has been the Celtics' emotional leader. He’s the heart and soul of the team, providing energy and toughness on both ends of the floor.

    Boston has given KG ample rest over the past month in preparation for another postseason run. Garnett is now 36, and his health is a big concern.

    If KG isn’t able to remain on the floor on a consistent basis, Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche will eat the Celtics' interior defense alive.


    Best Strategy for the Nets:

    On offense the Nets need to get the ball to Lopez and Blatche in the post. Even with Garnett in the lineup, the Celtics are a small team and are vulnerable inside.

    Defensively, Wallace must neutralize Jeff Green, and Joe Johnson will have to contain Paul Pierce in a battle of experienced playoff veterans. Reggie Evans' ability to dominate the glass will also be critical in preventing Boston from getting second-chance opportunities.


    Concerns for Nets:

    Joe Johnson’s health has been the biggest concern for the Nets as the postseason approaches. He missed five consecutive games from March 24 to April 3 with a nagging plantar fasciitis injury.

    The Nets will need Johnson to defend Paul Pierce and match his offensive production.

Atlanta Hawks (42-36)

4 of 8

    Current Seed: 6

    Regular Season Series: Split 2-2

    Key Matchup to Watch: Al Horford vs. Brook Lopez

    Brook Lopez was selected to his first All-Star Game in 2012-13. This is also the first season Lopez will be playing playoff basketball.

    Lopez has had a breakout campaign, averaging 19.2 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks.

    But Hawks center Al Horford is also quietly having an outstanding season, and this won’t be his first postseason rodeo.

    Horford is averaging a double-double (17.4 points, 10.2 rebounds). He racked up 22 points and 11 boards in a win against Brooklyn on March 17.


    X-Factor: Andray Blatche

    Al Horford and Josh Smith give the Hawks a formidable starting frontcourt. But Atlanta has nobody on its bench who can match up with Andray Blatche.

    Blatche has emerged as Brooklyn’s sixth man this year. He’s averaging 10.3 points and 5.0 rebounds in his role as a backup center.


    Best Strategy for the Nets:

    The Nets need to start fast against the Hawks. Atlanta is talented, but it lacks mental toughness. Once Atlanta is behind by double digits, Josh Smith starts settling for 18-foot jumpers and it all starts rolling downhill from there.

    Defensively the Nets must make sure they hustle back in transition. Otherwise the game might easily turn into a highlight reel for dunk master Smith.


    Concerns for Nets:

    The biggest concern for the Nets in this potential series has to be the Hawks' frontcourt duo of Smith and Horford. In the Hawks' 105-93 beatdown of the Nets on March 17, the two combined for 43 points and 18 rebounds. Horford accounted for a combined 39 points and 24 rebounds in the two Hawks victories against the Nets.

Chicago Bulls (42-35)

5 of 8

    Current Seed: 5

    Regular Season Series: Bulls 3-1

    Key Matchup to Watch: Reggie Evans vs. Carlos Boozer

    In the last outing between the Nets and Bulls, Carlos Boozer abused Reggie Evans to the tune of 29 points and 18 rebounds.

    Evans had no answer for the 6’9”, 260-pound power forward. On the other end of the floor Boozer held Evans scoreless.

    Evans' lack of offensive production isn’t a huge concern, as he’s averaging just 4.5 points, but he’ll need to play better defense against Boozer in the playoffs.


    X-Factor: Jimmy Butler

    The injury-riddled Bulls were forced to increase Jimmy Butler’s minutes as the season progressed. The Marquette product has proven he belongs in the NBA over the past two months.

    Butler has scored in double-figures in nine of his last 11 games. He posted 16 points and 10 rebounds in the Bulls' 92-90 win over the Nets last Thursday.

    If the Bulls get healthy and Butler continues to produce, they’ll be a tough out for anybody in the Eastern Conference.


    Best Strategy for the Nets:

    In order for the Nets to compete with the Bulls, they’ll have to match their physicality. The Bulls like to bang, and with Brook Lopez, Reggie Evans, Andray Blatche and Gerald Wallace, the Nets have the big bodies to match them.

    On defense this means not being afraid to commit hard fouls, fighting through screens, pressuring the ball and protecting the rim.

    On offense Brooklyn must attack the rim, dominate the glass and beat Chicago at its own game.


    Concerns for Nets:

    The Nets have to be worried about losing three out of four to the Bulls this season. They showed a lack of mental and physical toughness in their last loss to Chicago.

    They committed 16 turnovers and were out-rebounded 46-30. Brooklyn had the game in hand and let it slip away in the final minutes.

Indiana Pacers (49-29)

6 of 8

    Current Seed: 3

    Regular Season Series: Nets 2-0

    Key Matchup to Watch: Brook Lopez vs. Roy Hibbert

    It’s not often two talented seven-foot centers go head-to-head. Hibbert, who is actually 7’2”, will seek revenge against Lopez and the Nets who bested his Indiana Pacers twice this season.

    Lopez outplayed Hibbert in both games, accounting for a combined 40 points, 17 rebounds and four blocks.

    The two will get another chance to do battle before the postseason on April 12.


    X-Factor: Gerald Wallace

    The two games the Nets and Pacers have played this season have been ugly defensive struggles. That’s exactly the type of game in which small forward Gerald Wallace thrives.

    In the Nets' 89-84 win over the Pacers on Feb. 11, Wallace stuffed the stat sheet with 11 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks, two steals and two assists. He also committed five fouls while limiting All-Star Paul George to five points in 39 minutes.

    The Nets need Wallace to do the dirty work, especially against a team like Indiana that’s big, nasty and physical.


    Best Strategy for the Nets:

    The Nets and Pacers aren’t going to surprise each other. They’re two hard-nosed teams that play suffocating defense and wear their opponents down.

    As long as Brooklyn keeps the games close going into the fourth quarter, they’ll be in a great position to get results.

    Brooklyn must also capitalize on the advantage they have at point guard. George Hill is serviceable and a tough defender, but Deron Williams is one of the top point guards in the NBA. He’ll have to carry the scoring load, especially with Joe Johnson hobbled.


    Concerns for Nets:

    The concern for the Nets is the health of Johnson. Johnson scored a combined 37 points in the two Nets’ wins. If his minutes are limited, where will the scoring come from?

    This is a big question for the Nets entering the playoffs, particularly against great defensive units like Indiana and Chicago.

New York Knicks (51-26)

7 of 8

    Current Seed: 2

    Regular Season Series: Split 2-2

    Key Matchup to Watch: Joe Johnson vs. J.R. Smith

    Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony are the A-list stars in this New York City matchup, but it will be their trusty co-stars who could decide the outcome of this playoff series.

    Neither Joe Johnson nor J.R. Smith are known for their defense, but both can score in bunches.

    Johnson scored 25 points in the Nets' Jan. 21 win at Madison Square Garden. He’ll have to aid D-Will in the scoring department to counter a red-hot 'Melo.


    X-Factor: Steve Novak

    The Knicks offense relies heavily on the three-point shot. The team’s best three-point shooter is 6’10” Steve Novak. Novak is shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.

    If he’s making his shots, the Knicks are almost unbeatable, especially with the way 'Melo is playing lately.


    Best Strategy for the Nets:

    The Nets must play fundamentally sound perimeter defense against the Knicks. This means fighting off screens and not losing track of assignments.

    The Knicks offense has three fundamental features: Anthony operating in isolation on the wing and the post, the pick-and-roll between Raymond Felton and Tyson Chandler, and the rest of the team spotting up behind the three-point line.

    Offensively Brooklyn needs get the ball inside to its big men and take advantage when New York plays 'Melo at power forward. Deron Williams must also dominate the slower and smaller Felton.


    Concerns for Nets:

    The obvious concern for the Nets is Carmelo Anthony. 'Melo has been playing like a man possessed over the last two weeks.

    The NBA’s leading scorer is averaging 38.2 points over his last five games.

    If he continues his tear in the playoffs, New York has a great chance of plowing its way to the Eastern Conference finals.

Miami Heat (61-16)

8 of 8

    Current Seed: 1

    Regular Season Series: Heat 3-0

    Key Matchup to Watch: Brook Lopez vs. Chris Bosh

    The numbers suggest that Brook Lopez has supplanted Chris Bosh as the most dominant center in the Eastern Conference. But Bosh isn’t really a center. He’s a power forward playing center on a team that can afford to play him there because of its unique personnel.

    Either way, Lopez has a big size advantage over Bosh, and should have his way with him on the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

    Bosh is slightly more athletic and has more range. It will be interesting to see who wins this matchup if Brooklyn and Miami meet in the second round.


    X-Factor: Brook Lopez

    Brook Lopez must utterly dominate the frontcourt to give Brooklyn any chance of beating Miami in a seven-game series.

    Lopez was injured and didn’t play against the Heat on Dec. 1. He averaged 14.5 points, seven rebounds and two blocks in the other two games against Miami.


    Best Strategy for the Nets:

    On offense the Nets need to feed the ball to Lopez, and then feed him some more. The Heat lack size and depth in the frontcourt. Lopez should be able to get open looks and hopefully get Bosh and Chris Andersen into foul trouble.

    Defensively the Nets should take a page from the Bulls. They need to get physical with the Heat and not allow LeBron James to get to the rim without punishing him. One thing the Nets do have is depth in their frontcourt. Between Mirza Teletovic, Kris Humphries, Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans and Brook Lopez, there are plenty of fouls to go around.


    Concerns for Nets:

    The concern for the Nets is LeBron James.

    James is on pace to receive his fourth MVP and absolutely destroyed Brooklyn in their three meetings this season.

    The Nets can try to slow him down with Gerald Wallace, but it’s asking too much of the 32-year-old to contain one of the greatest players in NBA history at the peak of his power.

    For more Brooklyn Nets analysis, follow Andrew on Twitter


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