Despite Brooklyn’s ugly start, the team has rallied together and turned its season around. After coming out of the gate with a 10-21 stretch, the Nets finally cleared the .500 hurdle against the Sacramento Kings on March 9.
As of March 13, the Nets sit three games behind the Toronto Raptors for the Atlantic Division lead. And if playoff spots were locked immediately, Brooklyn would enter as the sixth seed and play those Canadian dinosaurs in the first round.
But Jason Kidd’s team has greater aspirations than just one series. And while the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers are the clear-cut favorites to win the Eastern Conference, the Nets will have a chance to complicate things.
The case against Miami
One of the biggest advantages that Miami holds over most teams in the NBA becomes nonexistent when they play the Nets: fear.
With [Kevin Garnett] out, he’s the heart and soul of our team. Everybody knows he shows up in big games. That’s what he does. He’s gonna be there. We kinda rode his back tonight and just followed his lead.
Pierce added that the Heat “have been winning on a lot of fear factor,” according to the Sun-Sentinel, implying that he and the rest of his team refuse to bow down to the two-time reigning champions.
But why does Brooklyn match up so well with Miami?
James told the New York Daily News that the Nets are “a very good team and exploit mismatches. They have a lot of guys who can beat you.”
The King is spot-on.
It’s nearly impossible to prepare for Brooklyn because opponents never know who to lock in on. Pierce, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams can all carry the team on any given night. But when guys like Livingston, KG (when healthy) and Mirza Teletovic step up, the Nets are extremely tough to beat.
The fact that Brooklyn went 3-0 against the Heat this year is huge. And while the fourth and final game of the regular-season series will be played on April 8, one thing is for sure: Miami wants no part of the Nets come playoff time.
The case against Indiana
While Brooklyn is undefeated against the Heat this season, J-Kidd’s veteran team has yet to beat the conference-leading Pacers.
The NBA is a league of matchups. Brooklyn matches up well against Miami, but not against Indy. However, that doesn’t mean that BKN can’t beat Paul George & Co. in a seven-game series.
And while George has displayed superstar ability, he’s also shown that he can be stopped. The Charlotte Bobcats, the same team that gave up 62 points to Carmelo Anthony and 61 to LBJ, held George to just two points on 0-9 shooting back on March 9.
When George scores fewer than 20 points, the 47-17 Pacers fall to 16-9. More than half of the team’s losses have come when their young star fails to carry the offensive load.
Brooklyn has the fifth-best defense against opposing small forwards, according to RotoGrinders, and would have to really shift their defensive effort toward stopping George in a seven-game series.
D-Will was not himself against Indy at any point this season, averaging just a hair over 13 points in four matchups while dealing with an ankle injury. But in his last 11 games, the healthy Williams has put up 16 points and nearly six assists a night.
While the Pacers are the best defensive team in the NBA, they’ve been susceptible to big nights from opposing guards.
During the team’s recent four-game losing streak, James Harden (28 points), Kemba Walker (19 points, nine assists), Monta Ellis (20 points, eight rebounds) and Klay Thompson/Steph Curry (36 combined points) found success against the Pacers.
If Williams can get into the paint and find shooters, such as the newly acquired Marcus Thornton, on the perimeter, Brooklyn would have a good shot of pushing Indy to the brink in a playoff series.
How far can the Nets go?
In a weird way, Brooklyn would be better off facing the Heat than the Pacers in the postseason. But in order to win the East, they’d likely have to go through both of those giants.
The Nets' record doesn’t reflect how good they really are. Just 33-30 as of March 13, the team has proven in the second half of the year that they’ve emerged as an elite squad.
Since January 1, Brooklyn has the best record in the East at 22-9—better than the Heat and the Pacers.
It’s hard to call a team that’s just a handful of games over .500 a contender, but it needs to be done. The Nets are a contender.
They’ve solidified themselves as a threat in the East, though the Heat and the Pacers are still the runaway favorites.
But don’t even think about sleeping on the Nets.