Breaking Down the Brooklyn Nets vs. Miami Heat

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Breaking Down the Brooklyn Nets vs. Miami Heat
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Last night, the new-look Brooklyn Nets met the Miami Heat for the first time.

Barring catastrophic injury or natural disaster, both teams should be near the top of the Eastern Conference, and they have four regular-season matchups to sort out exactly where each sits in relation to the other.

Last night was just a single preseason game, and the Nets were without their starting point guard Deron Williams, but we were able to get a sneak peak at some of the challenges each squad should present for the other.

 

How Does Miami Handle Brooklyn's Size?

Over their two championships runs, the Miami Heat have transitioned to a much smaller rotation, often playing Chris Bosh at center and using either Shane Battier or LeBron James at power forward.

This makes them incredibly quick and versatile at the offensive end, but it also makes it much harder for them to protect the paint at the other end.

They compensate for this lack of size with aggressive defense on the perimeter, plenty of fronting in the post and crisp rotations on the back line.

However, as the Indiana Pacers showed in last year's playoffs, a team with strong interior scorers and plenty of patience can really exploit the Heat defense.

The Nets added Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce over the summer and now have a deep array of interior scorers, both big and small, that they can use to bend the Heat defense.

When you run through their projected starting five, every playerfrom Brook Lopez down to Williamsis comfortable attacking from the low post.

Last night, the Nets looked to exploit this size advantage early.

In this first example, Garnett is matched up with Battier, and he heads straight to the block after crossing half court. The Nets space the floor well, and he's able to easily receive the pass and knock down the turnaround jumper. There's nothing fancy or creative here. Battier simply can't deal with Garnett's length.

Over the last few seasons in Boston, Garnett's game has slowly moved more and more towards the perimeter. Some of this was because of the Celtics system, but it was also an intentional move to save the aging Garnett some of the wear and tear that comes from battling in the post.

But against a team like the Heat, where he'll usually have a marked advantage in both size and strength, that familiar post game becomes a powerful weapon again.

In this next example, Lopez works early to set himself up for a good shot, pinning Bosh on his back and forcing him into fronting.

There isn't a good angle for an entry pass, so the Nets have to reverse the ball to the other side of the floor. As this reversal is set in motion, Pierce comes over and screens Bosh while he's trying to get back into position. The result is Lopez all by himself in the middle of the lane.

Here, Andray Blatche is after the same thing, hustling down the floor and pinning Battier under the basket early. Because the Heat defense hasn't had time to set up, there's not help available for Battier, and the result is an easy dunk for Blatche.

This deficit of size and strength is something the Heat can often mitigate with speed and aggressive trapping.

But if the Nets are consistent with getting their big men up the floor and into position early, it makes it that much harder for the Heat defense to adjust.

Even if the Heat defense is set up, the wealth of options the Nets have available to work in post-up sets means they'll wear on Miami over the course of a game.

This is just one area where the regular season games, or a potential playoff matchup, could be decided.

 

How Does Brooklyn Handle LeBron?

Both Pierce and Joe Johnson have spent plenty of time defending LeBron in the past. But both are well past their defensive primes, while LeBron has continued to add new pieces to his offensive game.

The truth is that no individual defender is going to be able to stop LeBron. That goal takes a complete team effort.

Garnett is the kind of vocal and committed back-line defender who can hold that sort of effort together, but he just doesn't have the legs anymore to do it for 40 minutes.

So how can the other pieces they have available work to slow him down?

This first example is actually an ideal defensive scenario for the Nets, even though LeBron hits the shot.

He's working in the post and is well defended by Pierce, which means no rotations are necessary and no shooters are accidentally left open on the perimeter.

Although LeBron is able to chew up some space, he ultimately settles for a fadeaway jumper.

Just a minute or two later, the Nets are able to run another defensive possession with the same results.

Here, Johnson defends LeBron on the opposite block. But again, the defense doesn't get stretched, and LeBron settles for a fadeaway. 

Now, both of these possessions ended with a made basket for the Heat, but from a defensive standpoint, they are victories for the Nets.

LeBron isn't shooting at the rim. He isn't collapsing the defense, and he isn't getting to the free throw line.

If they can coax LeBron into the post and make him a shooter instead of a passer, things become a lot simpler. Miss or make, these are the kinds of defensive possessions the Nets need to keep a game close with the Heat.

LeBron spent a lot of time in the post last night against the Nets, which may have been something of a rope-a-dope move by Erik Spoelstra.

Moving LeBron off the perimeter negates some of the edge he has on Pierce and Johnson in terms of quickness and also reduces some of the movement in the Heat offense.

LeBron is incredibly effective in the post. Good shots often come out of those sets for other players, but it also plays to the Nets' advantage.

Defending LeBron in a space where their bigs can be within an arm's length of helping, without having to have them move on the perimeter defending a pick-and-roll, covers up for some of the Nets' shortcomings. 

I would be really surprised to see the Heat feature such a vanilla, low-post attack from LeBron when these teams meet in the regular season.

In the end, it's tough to take too much from one preseason game, but you can already see the places where their future battles will be fought.

The Nets have to be able to run their offense through the interior and execute a collaborative effort on defense to keep LeBron from running amok.

If they can't, the Heat will do Heat things, and wins will be hard to come by for Brooklyn.

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