The Nets will face the Bulls in round one of the NBA Playoffs.
The 82-game grind is finally over and for the Brooklyn Nets it’s time to look ahead to the postseason.
The Nets finished the regular season with a record of 49-33, good enough for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. A loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday locked Brooklyn into the No. 4 position, and set the stage for a first-round matchup with the No. 5 seed Chicago Bulls (45-37).
The fight for the No. 5 seed came down to the final night of the season. Both the Bulls and Hawks entered the night at 44-37, but the Hawks fell to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden while the Bulls took care of business at home against the Washington Wizards.
Most Brooklyn fans felt it would be best to avoid a first-round series with Chicago. The Bulls, despite being riddled with injuries, still play a tough-minded and physical style of basketball. The defensive pressure Tom Thibodeau’s squad applies can wear any opponent down over the course of a seven-game series.
The Nets went 1-3 against the Bulls in the regular season.
If the Nets get past the Bulls, the defending-champion Heat will almost surely be waiting in the second round.
Brooklyn finished the regular season with a record of 49-33.
Unfortunately Sunday’s loss to the Raptors locked the Nets into the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference and dashed any hope of a 50-win season. But the team played well down the stretch, winning seven of its last nine games.
By most accounts the 2012-13 regular season was a major success for the Nets. The team qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2006-07, and won more games than it had since 2005-06. This squad also won a franchise record 23 road games.
Brooklyn overcame a great deal of adversity on its way to 49 wins, including injuries to Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. The big three were dinged up at different periods throughout the year and missed a combined 18 games.
Then there was the coaching change that took place when Avery Johnson was fired Dec. 28. The Nets were 14-14 when Johnson was canned after being named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for November. He was replaced by interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, who retained Johnson’s staff and led the team to an impressive 35-19 mark the rest of the way.
Brooklyn’s second-half surge was propelled by a healthy Williams, who returned to superstar form in March and April. D-Will averaged 22.9 points and eight assists while shooting nearly 50 percent from the field after the All-Star break.
The Nets benefited from a weak Eastern Conference and were consistently dominant against inferior opponents, finishing 32-5 against sub-.500 teams (at time of game played).
Against above-.500 teams, however, the Nets finished just 17-28, and were 10-19 against the Western Conference.
Brooklyn was slightly better at the Barclays Center in its inaugural season, finishing 26-15 at home and 23-18 on the road.
Home-court advantage will be the difference for the Nets in Round 1.
Game 1: at BK, Saturday, April 20, 8 p.m., ESPN
Prediction: Nets 94-84
Game 2: at BK, Monday, April 22, 8 p.m., TNT
Prediction: Nets 102-99
Game 3: at CHI, Thursday, April 25, 8:30 p.m., NBA TV
Prediction: Bulls 90-78
Game 4: at CHI, Saturday, April 27, 2 p.m., TNT
Prediction: Nets 108- 100
Game 5: at BK, Monday, April 29, TBD
Prediction: Bulls 88-84
Game 6: at CHI, Thursday, May 2, TBD
Prediction: Bulls 95-93
Game 7: at BK, Saturday, May 4, TBD
Prediction: Nets 106-94
Series Prediction: Nets 4-3
Kris Humphries could play a big role for the Nets in the postseason.
For the Nets:
It will be interesting to see how coach Carlesimo decides to rotate the Nets' frontcount.
Between Brook Lopez, Reggie Evans, Andray Blatche and Kris Humphries, Brooklyn has one of the deepest frontcourts in the NBA.
After being left out of the rotation for nearly the entire month of March, Humphries has been brought back into the fold. He averaged nearly 20 minutes in the final six games of the regular season. In his last two games combined, the 28-year-old power forward scored 31 points and grabbed 16 rebounds.
Starter Evans re-injured his shoulder in Wednesday night’s win over the Detroit Pistons. This could result in an increased role for Humphries in the first round.
For the Bulls:
Chicago has its own deep and talented frontcourt that features Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Luol Deng and Taj Gibson.
Noah (right foot), Deng (hip) and Gibson (left knee) have all been banged up recently. Coach Tom Thibodeau will have to be careful in allocating their minutes against a big and physical Nets squad.
Noah’s health has to be the biggest concern for the Bulls. He’s one the best defenders in the league and brings a tremendous amount of energy on both ends of the floor. The 6’11” center has missed 12 of the last 15 games while battling a nagging plantar fasciitis injury.
Noah recorded 21 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and four blocks against the Nets on March 2.
Nate Robinson will present a tough matchup for Deron Williams.
Deron Williams vs. Nate Robinson
The transformation of Deron Williams during the 2012-13 season was remarkable. In 50 games before the All-Star break Williams averaged 16.7 points on 41.3 percent shooting. In 28 games after the break he averaged 22.9 points on 48.2 percent shooting.
In his last seven games prior to the two meaningless contests versus the Washington Wizards and Pistons, Williams averaged 27 points.
He’s in the zone and playing his best basketball at the right time.
But he’s going to have his hands full against Nate Robinson.
At 5’8”, the Bulls' tiny point guard doesn’t look like much, but he’s a handful for any opposing point guard.
Offensively, Robinson is capable of lighting up the scoreboard on any given night. He scored in double figures in 12 of his last 14 games, and put up 35 points against the Knicks on April 11.
Defensively, Robinson is a true pest. He averages just 1.0 steal per game, but most of what he does isn’t reflected in the stat sheet. He possesses quick hands and quick feet, and plays with a ton of energy.
Brook Lopez vs. Joakim Noah
The Nets-Bulls series will feature a matchup between the best offensive center and best defensive center in the Eastern Conference.
Brook Lopez has had a breakout 2012-13 campaign. He was selected to his first All-Star Game and led all NBA centers in scoring with 19.4 points per game.
Joakim Noah, despite a nagging foot injury, had yet another outstanding season. The Bulls emotional leader averaged 11.9 points, 11.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks.
The Nets-Bulls series features two outstanding rebounding power forwards in Reggie Evans and Carlos Boozer.
Nets: 96.9 (17th in NBA)
Bulls: 93.2 (29th in NBA)
The Nets are in the middle of the pack when it comes to offense. In their last 10 games, however, Brooklyn scored at least 100 points eight times.
The Bulls are ranked nearly dead last in points per game and have struggled to put the ball in the basket without superstar point guard Derrick Rose.
Nets: 95.1 (6th in NBA)
Bulls: 92.9 (3rd in NBA)
The Nets and Bulls are both great defensive teams. Both rank in the top 10 in points allowed and prefer to play a half-court, slow-paced brand of basketball.
The Bulls have a slight advantage in this area, but could be without their best defensive player if Joakim Noah can’t play.
Nets: 42.8 (10th in NBA)
Bulls: 43.2 (8th in NBA)
It’s no surprise the Nets and Bulls rank in the top 10 in rebounding. Both have deep and talented frontcourts. Brooklyn power forward Reggie Evans leads the NBA in rebounds per 48 minutes (21.7).
The team that wins the battle on the boards is going to win the series.
Joe Johnson finally looks healthy again.
Like Joakim Noah, Joe Johnson has been dealing with a plantar fasciitis injury. But Johnson seems to finally be getting healthier.
Johnson’s injury didn’t cause him to miss a ton of time, but it did affect his performance on the court. Brooklyn’s starting shooting guard averaged just 16.3 points per game in 2012-13; his lowest total since 2002-03, when he averaged 9.8 points with the Phoenix Suns.
Prior to the injury, Johnson hit three game-winning shots, including two at the buzzer against the Pistons and Bucks.
Johnson is the finisher for Brooklyn, and the veteran sharpshooter knows his role. He’s getting healthy and the right time, and could be the difference in what should be a tightly-contested series.
There’s a lot to like about second-year small forward Jimmy Butler. The Marquette product has seen his role expand in the wake of Joakim Noah’s injury. Butler played at least 40 minutes in 10 of the last 14 games of the regular season.
Chicago will need Butler to continue to produce at a high-level to keep pace with Brooklyn. This will be the first time he plays extended minutes in the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how the 23-year-old performs in the spotlight.
Butler accounted for 22 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks and three steals in the Bulls’ 118-111 win over the Knicks on April 11.
P.J. Carlesimo talked about tightening the rotation to nine for the postseason.
It appears P.J. Carlesimo is going to roll with a nine-man rotation in the postseason. This means players like MarShon Brooks and Mirza Teletovic will probably be watching the majority of the playoffs from the bench.
Unfortunately for Chicago, Tom Thibodeau won’t have the luxury of tightening his rotation with all of the injuries the Bulls have sustained.
Both teams are hard-nosed and like to grind it out, but the Nets could look to push the tempo against a depleted Bulls outfit. Williams, Johnson and Lopez are all finally healthy and playing at a high level again.
Look for D-Will to push the ball to try to get his team some easy buckets in transition. Getting up and down could be the best way for the Nets to beat a Chicago team that plays exceptional half-court defense.
The Nets should be able to squeak by an injury-riddled Bulls team in the first round, but that’s where the magic will end.
Brook Lopez and Deron Williams will provide mismatches that the Nets can exploit to a certain degree, but Miami’s high-tempo, fast-break offense will be too much to overcome.
The Nets had a great regular season, and if they beat the Bulls in Round 1, this season as a whole must be considered a big success.
But the NBA playoffs are a different animal.
Like Slim Charles of HBO's hit series The Wire will tell you, "The game the same, just got more fierce."
After the Nets dispatch the Bulls in a brutal seven-game series, the Heat will bury D-Will and Co. in five games.
Brooklyn will be walking into a second-round gunfight with a revolver. Sure, it doesn't jam, "but it don't hold 15 neither."
In the NBA playoffs, only the truly elite teams survive.
Round 1: Nets 4, Bulls 3
Round 2: Heat 4, Nets 1
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