Brooklyn Nets: Brooklyn Nets

Notebook: Shot-clock madness

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
7:37
PM ET
TORONTO -- The first game of the Brooklyn Nets-Toronto Raptors series took on a bizarre twist when both shot clocks malfunctioned and went out.

The Nets and Raptors played most of the second half without a shot clock and had to rely on the public-address announcer to announce the time of the shot clock at intervals of 24, 10, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 second. If the clock wound all the way down, the announcer would signal its expiration by saying "horn."

[+] Enlargeshot clock
Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY SportsBoth shot clocks malfunctioned in Game 1 between the Nets and Raptors.
"Yeah, that was weird," Nets point guard Shaun Livingston said. "It’s like [playing in the] backyard, somebody calling it out, but we got used to it. We understood the conditions were going to be rough on the road. So just another factor we just had to deal with. The reality of the situation."

Nets guard Alan Anderson said he had played under similar circumstances overseas but that the announcer counted down in a foreign language.

"It’s an issue," Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. "But it affects both teams. We can’t complain about it. It does bother you when you don’t have a rhythm. You can’t get a rhythm as far as having a feel for what is on the clock. There is a difference when you look at it and see each second tick down. But both teams had to deal with it, and they dealt with it better than we did."

AK-47 watches: In his first playoff game as a head coach, Jason Kidd played a rotation of 10 Nets. Andrei Kirilenko, though, was not one of them, as the veteran defender was a healthy DNP.

"I can’t play them all," Kidd said. "That’s something that we talked about: that, at some point, you might not play, but you always have to be ready. Everybody in that locker room is going to have a chance at it, and so he’ll be ready to go in Game 2, but he’s healthy."

It was a little bit of a surprise that Kirilenko did not play. He provides the Nets with defense, energy and plenty of intangibles while averaging 19 minutes per game in the regular season.

Some wondered how Kidd would play his three big men and who would sit, but he ended up playing Kevin Garnett, Mason Plumlee and Andray Blatche 11 minutes or more. Plumlee battled foul trouble and had five fouls, logging just 11 minutes. Blatche played 16 minutes, and Garnett logged 20 minutes.

Easter Nets: The Nets left Toronto after the game and returned to spend Easter Sunday at home. They will practice on Sunday morning and Monday before returning to Toronto on Monday night.

Game 2 is on Tuesday and will be televised by the YES Network in the New York/New Jersey area because the game will be blacked out on NBA TV for local coverage.

Old man Pierce delivers playoff daggers

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
7:02
PM ET
videoTORONTO -- Paul Pierce has played in 137 playoff games, pressure-packed Game 7s and has experienced the intense spotlight of the NBA Finals.

But he experienced a postseason first on Saturday in Toronto.

The shot clocks malfunctioned and both the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors had to play most of the second half of Game 1 as if it were on somebody's driveway. The public-address announcer called out the time of the shot clock in intervals -- 24, 10, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 -- followed by "horn" if the shot clock expired.

It was a bizarre scene in an NBA playoff game.

[+] EnlargePaul Pierce
Claus Andersen/Getty ImagesPaul Pierce was "classic 'Truth'" in Game 1, according to Kevin Garnett.
"Well, I don’t remember if I ever played [in a playoff game without the shot clock], since I am a dinosaur," Pierce said with a smirk. "It’s been so long."

Pierce was sarcastically referring to a Toronto Sun headline that billed this first-round series as "RAPTORS VS. DINOSAURS," with Pierce and Kevin Garnett on the cover.

So far, it’s Fossils 1, Baby Raptors 0.

That’s because the painful "Truth" for Toronto is that its inexperience and the Nets’ vast wealth of experience decided Game 1 and set the tone for this best-of-seven series.

In his first playoff game as a Net, Pierce delivered a vintage fourth-quarter performance, burying four of five shots and scoring nine of his 15 points to help the Nets steal Game 1 in Toronto 94-87.

"[I] just get that feeling in a game," Pierce said of relishing the fourth quarter and hitting big postseason shots. "I’ve been in that situation a number of times. I don’t get rattled in fourth quarters down the stretch in playoff settings. I have been in pretty much every playoff setting that you can imagine."

The sixth-seeded Nets entered with an overwhelmingly decided advantage in postseason experience -- 570 combined career playoff games on their roster to just 156 for Toronto.

And that experience of having been here before revealed itself in a major way in Game 1, just as the Nets had hoped it would. The Nets all took the same bus to the Air Canada Centre instead of having the option of taking an earlier or later bus. Pierce, Garnett and head coach Jason Kidd walked off the bus with steely game faces on, and the rest of the Nets could feel the intensity.

"Oh man, I’ve [seen] a big difference," guard Alan Anderson said when asked about Pierce and Garnett’s demeanor compared to usual. "A lot more just seriousness … A lot more serious."

While the Nets were all business, the Raptors’ playoff inexperience was revealing itself in different manners. In the days leading up to Game 1, the Nets seemed to be genuinely amused by the talk of them tanking to draw Toronto and the Raptors even having to talk about it and entertaining the notion. Anything that might take the Raptors away from being focused on just winning was good to the Nets.

Then, Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri couldn’t contain his enthusiasm, shouting out "F--- Brooklyn!" at a pregame fan rally. By halftime, the GM was holding a conference with reporters to issue a quick apology.

Ujiri might’ve been dropping more expletives when the shot clock malfunctioned. The last thing the young Raptors needed was for an unforeseen obstacle like that to rattle them.

"Technical difficulties," said Toronto’s rising center Jonas Valanciunas, who had 17 points and 18 rebounds.

Both teams were trying to deal with the difficult situation of not having the shot clock available. The Raptors were beginning to get settled in as they tied the game at 73 with 6:25 remaining against mostly Nets reserves.

Game 1 was up for grabs as 19,800 Toronto fans were ready to explode.

That’s when Kidd re-inserted starters Pierce, Garnett and Deron Williams. Not long after that, it was game over for the Raptors.

Pierce found Shaun Livingston for a jumper. Later, Joe Johnson buried a floater. Then, Garnett drilled an eight-footer that gave the Nets a 79-76 lead with less than four minutes to go.

Pierce then saw his opportunity to finish the Raptors. He sank a 3-pointer to push the lead to six. Then came a driving layup followed by a 19-foot jumper. The final dagger was a 20-foot turnaround, fadeaway jumper over Patrick Patterson, who could only shake his head in frustration as the Nets took an 88-81 lead with 51.9 seconds to go.

Garnett pumped his fist at half court after that Pierce 3-pointer. He knew exactly what was happening -- Pierce was taking over the game.

"Countless," Garnett said of how many times he has seen games like this from his old Boston Celtics teammate.

No shot clock. Nearly 20,000 fans screaming at the top of their lungs at him. The opposing GM cursing about the team. A newspaper calling him a dinosaur.

Consider all of this fossil fuel for Pierce.

"I really feed off the emotions of the crowd, especially on the road," Pierce said. "Try to stay calm and bring my calmness to the game and try to influence the rest of the guys."

Pierce and Garnett spent so much of the season pumping up and verbalizing their support for Williams with the knowledge that they would need Williams at this stage of the season.

D-Will responded with 24 points, playing Kyle Lowry evenly and supplying stingy defense late that helped hold the Raptors point guard to only four of his 22 points in the fourth quarter.

But Kidd convinced Pierce and Garnett to come to Brooklyn in a trade last summer to show younger players like Williams how to win a game like this one in a tight fourth quarter.

The 2014 playoffs have officially begun, and Pierce got it started doing what he always does -- deliver fourth-quarter daggers.

"He was classic 'Truth,'" Garnett said. "Epic."

Kidd: D-Will 'set the tone' in Game 1

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
5:41
PM ET
Coming off a subpar regular season -- by his standards -- Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams said he was “motivated” going into the 2013-14 playoffs.

It showed in Game 1 of the first-round Eastern Conference postseason series with the Toronto Raptors.

Williams scored 11 of his team-high-tying 24 points in the first quarter, galvanizing the Nets in their 94-87 victory Saturday afternoon at Air Canada Centre.

“He was great. He set the tone,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said. “He came out with high energy, and I thought he was looking to be aggressive and move the ball. But I thought he set the tone early on and he got the guys off to a good start.”

Williams averaged 14.3 points on 11.2 shots per game in the regular season.

On Saturday afternoon, he had 18 points on 17 shots -- by halftime.

Williams, who finished 8-for-20 from the field in 39 minutes, was certainly attacking more than he usually does, driving into the teeth of the defense and getting shots inside the paint.

“A lot of it was how they were playing me, but my teammates were telling me to be aggressive,” Williams said. “When I’m getting in the lane and making things happen, I think we’re a better team. And so I was taking what the defense was giving me, but at the same time I was consciously being aggressive.”

Heading into the game, one of the biggest questions was whether Williams could keep up with Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, who had outplayed Brooklyn’s $98 million man all season.

But Williams more than held his own, though Lowry finished with 22 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds.

Of course, it was only a year ago that Williams was putting the finishing touches on a blowout win in Game 1 over the Chicago Bulls with a reverse dunk.

Williams averaged 20.6 points and 8.4 assists a game on 42.5 percent shooting in that series, but the Nets were eliminated in seven games on their home floor.

The bottom line: Williams looked nothing like the player that shot 39.8 percent from the field in April. He looked healthy, was aggressive, and as Kidd said, he set the tone early.

Now the Nets just need Williams to keep it up for the rest of the series.

You see, it’s never just been about one game for Williams since his arrival from Utah.

It’s been about consistency.

Rapid Reaction: Nets 94, Raptors 87

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
3:38
PM ET
Paul Pierce was The Truth in Game 1 of the Brooklyn Nets’ first-round Eastern Conference playoff series against the Raptors in Toronto.

Pierce scored nine straight points late in the fourth quarter, enabling the Nets to emerge with a 94-87 victory Saturday afternoon at Air Canada Center.

Pierce was making his playoff debut with the Nets after spending the first 136 postseason games of his career with the Boston Celtics.

What it means: The Nets stole home-court advantage from the Raptors as their experience showed in crunch time. Teams that win Game 1 of best-of-seven NBA playoff series go on to win the series 77.3 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Truth and Ticket: Kevin Garnett and Pierce, who brought 267 combined games of playoff experience, both struggled mightily through the first three quarters. But when it was money time, they delivered.

Garnett’s first basket gave the Nets a 79-76 lead with 3:41 left, and Pierce snapped the team’s consecutive 3-point drought at 19, drilling one with 2:58 remaining to give the Nets an 82-76 lead. Pierce made it 84-78 when he converted on a driving layup with 2:21 left after appearing to commit a traveling violation. Pierce followed that with a 19-footer and another jumper.

Pierce had 15 points, 4 rebounds and 4 assists; Garnett added 5 points and 8 rebounds in 20 minutes.

Battle of the point guards: Deron Williams and Kyle Lowry got after it. What a wonderful matchup. Williams scored 11 of his 24 points in the first quarter and was 8-for-20 from the field in 39 minutes. Williams, who averaged 14.3 points on 11.2 shots per game during the regular season, had 18 points on 17 shots -- at the half.

Lowry, who averaged 22 points on 50 percent shooting in four regular-season meetings against the Nets, ended with 22 points, 8 assists and 7 rebounds.

Why Brooklyn won: Joe Johnson had 22 points, and the Nets overcame a 4-for-24 performance from 3-point range. Brooklyn had just eight turnovers, got nine steals and held Toronto to 39.4 percent shooting from the field. DeMar DeRozan, the Raptors’ leading scorer during the regular season, shot just 3-for-13.

Major malfunctions: During the third quarter, the shot clocks on the backboards stopped working. A delay ensued. The Raptors' PA announcer had to call out “24,” “10,” and then count down “5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Horn” so the players would know how much time was left. Time was kept on stopwatches and on the Jumbotron. The teams combined for just 33 points in the third. Lowry hit a huge 3-pointer at the buzzer to make it 67-62 Brooklyn heading into the fourth.

Tensions escalate: Garnett was hit with a technical foul in the second quarter for swiping at the ball as he was defending Lowry after the whistle. Nets center Andray Blatche was hit with a technical later in the second after getting tangled up with Lowry. Nets-Raptors feels like much more of a rivalry than Nets-Knicks. The fans in Toronto were raucous in this one, their chants of “KG Sucks!” in the first quarter loud and strong.

Comeback kids: Toronto came back from a double-digit deficit by outplaying Brooklyn’s bench. The Nets led at the half 50-46 despite missing their last 11 3-pointers (3-for-15) and getting outrebounded by 10 (27-17). Garnett was held scoreless in a first half for the first time in his playoff career (132 games).

Hot start: Fueled by Williams and Johnson, the Nets ripped off an 18-2 extended run to take a 25-13 lead in the first quarter. Jonas Valanciunas had eight points and eight rebounds in the opening period.

DNP-CD? Andrei Kirilenko did not play, which was a surprise. All three centers -- Garnett, Blatche and Mason Plumlee -- did. Plumlee was in foul trouble all game, which meant more minutes for Blatche.

Sorry I’m not Sorry: Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, in attempt to fire up Toronto supporters during a fan rally outside the arena before the game, shouted “F--- Brooklyn!” He issued a non-apology at halftime.

Clean-shaven: Nets coach Jason Kidd shaved off his beard. His beard went 34-17 before leaving his face.

Up next: Game 2 on Tuesday night in Toronto.

Toronto Sun: 'Raptors vs. Dinosaurs'

April, 19, 2014
Apr 19
12:30
PM ET
It’s the back page that everyone’s talking about.

Saturday’s editions of the Toronto Sun feature a backpage that says: “Raptors vs. Dinosaurs”

Underneath, it says: “Garnett & Pierce are so old the Raptor had to ask his dad about them”



Credit to the headline writers for their originality, though the Brooklyn Nets probably don’t think it’s so clever.

Kyle Lowry is the oldest Toronto starter (28). By comparison, Shaun Livingston is the youngest Brooklyn starter (28).

But with age comes experience, and that’s where the Nets have a massive edge over the Raptors, 570 playoff games to 156.

Scout: Predictable offense an issue for Nets

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
6:45
PM ET
The Brooklyn Nets are likely going to have to overcome several obstacles in order to make a deep playoff run.

One of them, according to an NBA scout who spoke with ESPNNewYork.com, is their offense.

It’s not a bad offense, by any means; the Nets ranked 13th in efficiency in 2014.

It just doesn’t have a lot of variety.

“A lack of sophistication on offense, a lack of constant motion at times will hurt them at some point down the line. It may not be this series [against Toronto], but at some point the simplicity of their offense is going to catch up with them,” the scout said.

Since going to a smaller lineup, Jason Kidd’s Nets are intent on exploiting mismatches.

The main way they do that is by predominantly running what’s called “splits action” -- which was originally created by Rick Adelman and very similar to what Kidd’s former coach, Rick Carlisle, runs in Dallas.

Two wings are down by the corner 3 and two bigs are up each elbow by the foul line. The point guard can then pass the ball to one of the bigs before screening for the nearside guy in the corner (the side he passed to).

The key to this action is to get the ball in the middle of the floor in an effort to create options. It makes the defense choose between giving up a relatively open look to a shooter or making the defense susceptible to a lot of back cuts. It’s basically pick your poison between a slightly open 3-pointer or giving up a layup.

“They are constantly looking to post up their guards through splits action or a pick and roll, typically with two smalls,” the scout said. “It’s either through one of their three guards or [stretch forward] Paul Pierce. They’re just trying to get smaller guards switched on to one of their bigger guards for a post-up.

“They’re counting a lot of times on Joe Johnson being the guy in the post or teams fearing that and sending a second man at Joe. He then kicks it out and they can swing the ball around the perimeter to get an open look at a 3-pointer.”

“In the playoffs, often times your first look gets taken away, so you have to be a bit more creative,” the scout added. “When you don’t run a lot of complicated sets and actions, it becomes easy to defend. The Nets are going to lose if they can’t get a matchup in which Joe has a distinct size advantage in the post. If the defense doesn’t come and help, it’s going to be awful tough backing down a guard [of similar size].”

This is where Kidd has to adjust and get creative.

W2W4: Nets at Raptors, Game 1

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
4:45
PM ET
The Brooklyn Nets face the Toronto Raptors on Saturday afternoon in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series at Air Canada Centre (ESPN/WatchESPN, 12:30 p.m. ET). Here’s what we’ll be watching for:

Kidd’s coaching (playoff) debut: Rookie coach Jason Kidd will be coaching in his first playoff game. How Kidd does in terms of making adjustments and tweaks will be key to the Nets' eventual success or failure -- both in this series and beyond. Raptors coach Dwane Casey was an assistant with the Mavericks when Kidd played in Dallas.

D-Will vs. Kyle Lowry: This is the key matchup in the series. Deron Williams had a down season by his standards, while Lowry was arguably the best point guard in the Eastern Conference (John Wall is the other candidate for that distinction). Lowry commands the attention of the entire defense. In the four regular-season meetings between the two teams, he averaged 22 points and six assists. Williams can turn his season around with a strong showing in the playoffs.

How many minutes for KG? Good question. Kevin Garnett averaged just 20.5 minutes per game during the regular season, and Kidd has said he’d like to keep Garnett at a similar number during the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how much Garnett plays. And when Garnett doesn’t play, how much will we see of Andray Blatche and Mason Plumlee? Blatche was a consistent bench performer all season, but Plumlee really came on strong late in his rookie year. Kidd’s minute-allotment at the center position is definitely something to keep an eye on.

Experience gap: The Nets have 570 games of playoff experience on their roster, while the Raptors have just 156. Toronto, though, ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency in 2013-14. The Nets went 34-17 after Jan. 1. The Raptors went 44-22 after trading Rudy Gay in December.

Remember when: The Nets haven’t won a playoff series since 2007, when Kidd led the then-New Jersey Nets over Toronto in six games. Kidd averaged a triple-double in that series.

Could be close: The teams split the season series 2-2. Three of the four games were decided by four points or less. Both games Brooklyn dropped were on the second leg of a back-to-back. There are none of those in the playoffs.

So you’re aware: Courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information: There have been 453 best-of-seven series in NBA history. Teams that win Game 1 go on to win the series 77.3 percent of the time. When the home team wins Game 1, that team goes on to win the series 84.8 percent of the time (285-51). When the road team wins Game 1, that team goes on to win the series 55.6 percent of the time (65-52).

D-Will 'motivated' to stand out in playoffs

April, 18, 2014
Apr 18
4:00
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The advanced stats paint a different picture of Deron Williams than the regular metrics.

Throughout the season, the Nets were a much better team with their $98 million point guard on the court, scoring 8.3 more points per 100 possessions, while allowing 3.8 fewer points per 100 possessions.

Still, Williams was not the MVP candidate Nets coach Jason Kidd and former teammate Jason Terry figured he would be in 2013-14.

Hampered by ankle inflammation up until the All-Star break for the second straight season, Williams averaged a pedestrian 14.1 points and 6.3 assists per game.

The Nets may be favored -- at least by most basketball media types, anyway -- heading into their first-round playoff series with the Toronto Raptors. But good luck finding anyone who thinks they have the advantage at point guard.

As one Eastern Conference scout told ESPNNewYork.com, “Kyle Lowry has outplayed Deron Williams throughout the entire season.”

In four games against the Nets, Lowry averaged 22 points and six assists on 50 percent shooting.

“He’s tough,” Williams said, “Very aggressive on both ends of the floor. Definitely the key is to try to contain him. He’s just a shot-maker. He’s making shots right now from everywhere.”

Williams said he’s “motivated” to have a good postseason. He needs to.

The Nets can’t afford for him to have two turnovers in the final minute -- like he did in a 104-103 loss to the Raptors on Jan. 27.

“For [the Nets] to make a run, [Williams] is going to have be very, very good,” ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy said during a conference call, “And the person he’s going up against in the first series could be the most underrated player in the league this season in Kyle Lowry. Kyle Lowry should have been an All-Star this season. He has had a tremendous year. He has the mentality of a pit bull.

“Williams is going to have to be really good.”

In some games this season, he has been. But stretches of greatness have been rare.

Earlier this season, Williams admitted that his confidence wasn’t where it needed to be.

He is far from where he was in 2010, when NBA general managers voted him the best point guard in the league.

“Sometimes you don't know how good you have it,” Van Gundy said. "Williams, in Utah, with [coach] Jerry Sloan, with the combination of the other players they had, were right on the cusp. They were very, very good. He was viewed as that point -- some people thought Chris Paul was the best point guard, some people thought Deron Williams was the best guard. But they were both guys who were looked upon as surefire Hall of Famers.

“This guy was an absolute stud, a handful on both ends of the floor. You don’t realize how big and strong and powerful he is. He wasn’t really good then. He was great. It’s not like he hasn’t played well with the Nets, and at times very well. It’s just that he hasn't been consistently great like he was in Utah like he was every night.”

Said Kidd: “I think Deron has gotten better as the year has gone on, but the biggest thing is his health. He’s gotten healthy, so hopefully that continues through the playoffs.”

Notebook: Ross' diss, Hooters and merch

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
6:00
PM ET
OK, so it’s not Paul Pierce and J.R. Smith going back and forth about the Brooklyn Nets-New York Knicks rivalry over the summer.

But Brooklyn’s players are well-aware that Toronto Raptors forward Terrence Ross said he “preferred” to face the Nets in the playoffs during a recent web chat with fans.

“Ross asked for this, so first of all they’ve got to back up their words,” Andray Blatche told reporters in Cleveland on Wednesday night.

Added Mason Plumlee on WFAN Thursday: “You get what you wish for. I guess we’ll have to see what kinda series he has coming up.”

It certainly makes for an intriguing subplot, that’s for sure.

Bloomberg reports that Russian native Andrei Kirilenko is bringing five “Hooters” restaurants to Moscow.

Kirilenko said “the biggest challenge will be overcoming the notion that it’s a strip bar.”

• Brooklynnets.com writer Lenn Robbins has a terrific interview with Nets coach Jason Kidd that covers a wide variety of topics. It is well worth your time.

• The Nets had the seventh-highest selling merchandise among NBA teams at NBAStore.com, according to a league-issued press release.

Matchups: Nets vs. Raptors

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
4:34
PM ET
Who will win this first-round Eastern Conference playoff series: the Brooklyn Nets or the Toronto Raptors?

Let’s take a look at the matchups to figure it out:


RAPTORSPOINT GUARD: Believe it or not, the Nets are a much better team when Deron Williams is on the court -- both offensively and defensively.

Just look at this efficiency breakdown:
On-court offensive/defensive rating: 108.3/103.1
Off-court offensive/defensive rating: 100.0/106.9

Williams’ stats, however, don't exactly jump out at you. He dealt with ankle injuries up until the All-Star break for the second consecutive season.

Bottom line: It’s time for the 29-year-old to step up and play like an All-Star. After all, the Nets are only going to go as far as their $98 million man takes them. The inbound pass he threw against Toronto that was intercepted by Patrick Patterson and led to Patterson’s game-winning basket on Jan. 27? Can’t happen.

Kyle Lowry, at one point, it seemed, was headed to New York or Brooklyn. Can you imagine if the Raptors traded him? Lowry was among the best floor general in the Eastern Conference this season and averaged 25.6 points on 48.3 percent shooting over the last five games of the regular season. Lowry, an adept marksman from 3-point territory, commands the attention of an opponent’s entire defense. He’s that good.

EDGE: RAPTORS


RAPTORSSHOOTING GUARD: One of the biggest reasons for Brooklyn’s 2014 turnaround was the inclusion of Shaun Livingston into the starting lineup. Livingston complements Williams well. On many nights, he’s asked to guard the opposition’s best wing player. Also an adept scorer in the post because of his size, Livingston has been his team’s unsung hero all season. He’s one of those rare players who doesn't need the ball to have an effect on the game. Who knows where the Nets would be without him.

DeMar DeRozan was Toronto’s lone All-Star. He’s young, talented, athletic and can score. DeRozan averaged a team-high 22.7 points per game in 38.2 minutes, but he needed 17.8 shots a night to get there. DeRozan has been criticized a lot, but the Raptors are going to need a big series from him if they're going to advance.

EDGE: RAPTORS


NETsSMALL FORWARD: Joe Johnson was Brooklyn’s lone All-Star. He was extremely consistent and shot 40.2 percent from 3-point range -- the second-highest mark in his career. Over the past 18 games of the regular season, Johnson averaged 18.2 points on 50.2 percent shooting. Known for his prowess in the clutch, the 32-year-old hit two game-winning buzzer-beaters. Johnson sacrificed shots for the betterment of the team, and his willingness to do so from the beginning was impressive.

Terrence Ross got an opportunity to start because of the Rudy Gay deal. He’s certainly flourished. Arguably one of the best dunkers in the NBA, Ross averaged 10.9 points, highlighted by a 51-point game in late January. Ross said he preferred to face the Nets in the first round. Now is his chance to show why.

EDGE: NETS


NETSPOWER FORWARD: Livingston’s insertion into the starting lineup coincided with Paul Pierce moving to power forward. It worked brilliantly. Pierce has adjusted to his new role like a future Hall of Famer should. He ranks second on the team in defensive rating -- despite giving up 50 to 60 pounds to most bigs he has to guard -- and is shooting 47.7 percent from the field since Jan. 1. Pierce had a difficult time making the transition from Boston to Brooklyn at first, but he has since moved on and made a significant impact -- especially as a leader.

Amir Johnson is a solid veteran who understands his role and does it well. He shot 56.2 percent from the field during the regular season and averaged 10.5 points.

EDGE: NETS


NETSCENTER: Kevin Garnett hates playing center, in case you didn’t know. Problem is, he’s really good at it. After getting off to a slow start like his buddy Pierce, Garnett turned his season around. He’s the team’s quarterback on defense. His on-court defensive rating is a team-best 100.5. When he’s not on the court, the team’s defensive rating drops to 106.6. Since Jan. 1, Garnett is shooting 55.6 percent from the field. The key for him is his health. The 37-year-old missed 19 games recently because of back spasms. Luckily, there are no back-to-backs in the playoffs, so he'll have plenty of rest. Garnett’s leadership is so valuable, as is his postseason experience.

Jonas Valanciunas, 21, has a bright future ahead of him. He averaged 11.3 points and 8.8 rebounds and shot 53.1 percent from the field. He’s a handful to deal with inside.

EDGE: NETS


NETSBENCH: Brooklyn’s bench is one of its biggest strengths. The Nets led the Eastern Conference in bench scoring this season. Andray Blatche and trade-acquisition Marcus Thornton both averaged in double figures. Mirza Teletovic is an excellent floor spacer. Andrei Kirilenko, now healthy, is a versatile piece who always seems to have his hands on the ball. Mason Plumlee is a strong candidate to make the All-Rookie first team, while Jorge Gutierrez looks as though he may get some playoff minutes.

Toronto certainly gets a lot of use out of its reserves, as well. Greivis Vasquez has been an excellent pickup. He leads the Raptors in defensive rating (98.2). Patterson and veteran John Salmons also get a lot of run off the pine. Tyler Hansbrough is an intense big body, while Nets fans are certainly familiar with 3-point specialist Steve Novak.

EDGE: NETS


COACH: Early on, it looked as though rookie head coach Jason Kidd was overwhelmed. But the two-time Eastern Conference Coach of the Month has done a great job instilling confidence in his players. When Kidd decided the Nets should go small, their season took off.

Dwane Casey has done a remarkable job in the final year of his contract, and he is a strong candidate for coach of the year honors after guiding the Raptors to a surprising Atlantic Division title.

EDGE: PUSH


NETSPREDICTION: The Nets may have wanted to play the Raptors in Round 1, but Toronto is going to be a tough matchup for Brooklyn. The Raptors can shoot the 3-pointer and all their players seem to have great chemistry playing with one another. Remember: Three of the four regular-season matchups between the two teams were decided by four or fewer points. Still, the Nets have the edge in playoff experience, which gives them an edge, assuming they can stay healthy. Winning Game 1 at Air Canada Centre and stealing away home-court advantage would be huge for a Brooklyn team that has won 16 of its last 18 games at Barclays Center.

NETS IN 6

'Joe Jesus' healed; big spring on tap?

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
12:57
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Joe JohnsonAP Photo/Seth Wenig
NEW YORK -- By the end of last season, Joe Johnson had become “Decoy Joe,” the plantar fasciitis in his left foot having significantly worsened, robbing him of his ability to play basketball at a high level in a do-or-die Game 7.

“It was tough, man,” Johnson said, harking back to his six-point, 2-for-14 shooting performance in 38 minutes on May 4. The Brooklyn Nets were eliminated on their home court by the Chicago Bulls, losing 99-93.

“I know what I’m capable of doing, and I couldn’t lift the team in any form or fashion,” Johnson continued. “That’s probably the most frustrating thing.”

But heading into his second playoffs with the Nets, the man Kevin Garnett refers to as Joe Jesus because of his prowess in the clutch is mostly injury-free -- and ready to make a huge impact.

“Obviously, this is a different time for us as Brooklyn Nets because of the players we have and we’re going into the postseason healthy,” Johnson said. “And me not playing on one leg is gonna make a big difference.”

Johnson enjoyed an All-Star campaign in 2013-14, averaging a team-best 15.8 points and shooting 45.4 percent (40.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark of his career) in 79 games.

Brooklyn Nets
Mark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsJoe Johnson makes his money at the buzzer. The Nets' closer finished off Brooklyn's comeback with a dagger in Oklahoma City.
The 32-year-old veteran knocked down 162 3-pointers (second most in team history), hit two game-winning buzzer-beaters -- his second on Jan. 2 in Oklahoma City turned the season around -- and scored 29 points in the third quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 16. The Nets went 15-5 in games in which he scored 20 or more points.

“He’s carried the load for us all year,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said.

In 2012-13, Johnson was heavily counted on to provide scoring. But this season, his role changed a bit. Johnson, known for his ability to deliver in isolation sets, averaged just 12.9 shots in 2013-14 -- his lowest since 2002-03.

“I think we’ve all had to sacrifice a little bit for the betterment of the team,” Johnson said. “We’ve done that. I think in this postseason we’re not gonna try to come out and do anything that we haven’t been doing. We’re gonna continue to play together, play hard and keep sacrificing so we can keep moving along.”

Perhaps the biggest key to Johnson’s success was his willingness to buy into Kidd’s system from the beginning. In the absence of Brook Lopez (season-ending foot injury), Johnson has become one of the team’s main threats in the post, using his size (6-foot-7, 240 pounds) either to take advantage of smaller guards or facilitate the offense and get one of his teammates an easy basket.

“It didn’t take me long; I’m an easy-going kind of guy,” Johnson said. “If you’re gonna tell me something that’s gonna help us out, then I’m willing to do it.”

For all the talk about Johnson's never living up to the massive six-year, $119 million contract he received from the Atlanta Hawks in 2010, or how he can’t be relied on as a No. 1 option, the native of Little Rock, Ark., has emerged as arguably the best late-game player in the entire NBA.

Over the last two seasons, in the final minute of games in which the Nets were tied or trailing by three points or fewer, Johnson is 13 for 16 from the field with four game-winning buzzer-beaters.

Hence the nickname: Joe Jesus.

“He might not be there when you call on him, but he’s there when you need him,” Garnett said.

The Nets were 10-21 when Johnson’s behind-the-back fadeaway jumper beat the Thunder. They have gone 34-17 since.

"What year was that? 2014? That was a good year,” Kidd joked. “I think that's just Joe. You go back to the Phoenix game [on Nov. 15]. He drove the length of the court, made the floater [to win the game at the buzzer]. There was no emotion. It was just: The game is over. Let's go get ready to play the Clippers.

“Most guys like to a dance, most guys like to celebrate, but Joe just moves on. When Joe made that shot, it was just everybody expected him to make it. And he delivered. And he loves that stage, and that's something we can lean on in the playoffs. I think it kinda kick-started our season."

Johnson put the team on his back during a stretch in mid-January; became the first Net in five years to win Eastern Conference Player of the Week in late March; and closed out the regular season by averaging 18.2 points and 50.2 percent shooting in his last 18 games.

“Last year was fun, but I think this year has been a bit more special because of where we started to where we’ve gotten to now,” Johnson said.

Johnson has played in 69 career playoff games, averaging 16.7 points and 41.4 percent shooting. But he’s never appeared in an NBA Finals before.

The sixth-seeded Nets, who will face the third-seeded Toronto Raptors in the first round (Game 1 is Saturday), certainly aren’t the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference, but given their dominance over the Miami Heat and the way the Indiana Pacers sputtered down the stretch, who knows. They’re certainly better equipped to get there this season than they were a year ago.

“I would say so,” Johnson said. “I think because we got the experience and guys have been through the trenches of the playoffs to help us get to where we’re trying to get to, so I think we have what it takes to be the last team standing.”

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Starting Five: Will Nets survive Raptors?

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
9:00
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CLEVELAND -- Their playoff ticket has been punched, but which team will show up on Saturday when the Toronto Raptors play host to the Brooklyn Nets in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs?

The Nets may be limping into the postseason, having lost four of their final five games, but the entire locker room is a firm believer in hitting the reset button.

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“I like right where we are,” said Nets coach Jason Kidd. “We are in a good place and playing some pretty good basketball as of late. We’ve rested and guys have gotten their work in at the same time of getting some of the injuries they’ve had -- some of the nicks and bruises -- healed. Now it’s time to figure out how to get a win on the road.”

Kidd, a rookie head coach armed with a $190 million roster, experienced a roller coaster of a season, seemingly hitting rock bottom around the New Year -- a five-game losing streak in November was met with a four-game losing streak in December -- only to propel itself into the sixth seed as a result of its turnaround in 2014.

But over the season’s final two weeks, the team has struggled to tally additional victories, losing twice to the neighboring New York Knicks, once to the Orlando Magic and once to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Injuries plagued the Nets throughout the duration of the season. Kidd lost key players (including point guard Deron Williams and center Brook Lopez, the latter suffering a season-ending ankle injury in March) for stretches of time. And while the team played well within the confines of the Barclays Center, winning 16 of their final 18 games, it has been the road that has given them fits.

“All four games that we played [against Toronto] were pretty tough games for us," said forward Andrei Kirilenko. “Nobody expected them to play so well this season, but they traded Rudy Gay and started to play better. I think it’s going to be a tough matchup, but if you want to be the best, you have to beat everybody.”

Coming in with the potential of being the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, the losing streak ultimately relegated the Nets to the sixth seed. Toronto, winners of the Atlantic Conference and owners of the third seed, will have home-court advantage during the first-round matchup. For the series, the Nets and Raptors split, each team winning twice -- once on the road and once at home.

“It’s like a new season starts right now,” Kirilenko said. “Right now, every game counts. Every possession set you play on the floor is important. Right now, it’s going to be very important to stay concentrated and keep our heads in the game.”

“It’s the playoffs,” Kidd echoed. “You come, it’s a new season, both teams are 0-0 and it’s the first one to four [wins].”

Question: What do you think of the Brooklyn’s chances against Toronto? Let us know in the comments section below.

In case you missed it: The playoffs are here, and the pressure is on.

Stat to know: The Raptors’ entire roster has 156 games of playoff experience. By comparison, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce have played in 267 playoff games combined.

Up next: The Nets are off Thursday before returning to practice on Friday.

For Nets, pressure is officially on

April, 17, 2014
Apr 17
1:08
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It is hard to fathom that the Brooklyn Nets tanked four of their final five games to avoid facing the Chicago Bulls for a first-round matchup with the Toronto Raptors -- if only because it would be atypical of a $190 million team with championship aspirations to fear anyone.

Nevertheless if the Nets did indeed tank, they got exactly what they wanted. And if they can advance past the Raptors, a date with the two-time defending champion Miami Heat looms.

The Nets finished 4-0 against the Heat in the regular season. And it would be fitting for the two teams to guarantee themselves at least four more meetings in the playoffs.

The talk all season -- even in the turbulent times -- was that the Nets were built for the playoffs.

Well, it's playoff time now. The time for Brooklyn to prove itself and make owner Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian billionaire who shelled out all that money, and Billy King, the general manger who assembled the roster, proud.

The pressure is officially on.

Nets/Raptors
Ron Turenne/Getty ImagesThe Raptors wanted the Nets and vice versa. Game 1 is Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
The Nets were eliminated by the Bulls in Game 7 on their home court last season. Brooklyn's lack of leadership was apparent, as was the fact that it never developed an identity.

But going into the 2013-14 playoffs, it appears that the Nets have all the necessary ingredients to make a deep run.

Adversity came early, but it made them stronger. The Lawrence Frank fiasco; Jason Kidd’s involvement in Sodagate; Brook Lopez’s season-ending injury; the slow starts of both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce; all the blowouts; even the early injuries to both Deron Williams and Andrei Kirilenko.

The Nets were able to overcome them all. They were 10-21 when Kidd inserted Shaun Livingston into the starting lineup, moved Pierce to power forward and Garnett to center. That day was Jan. 2. And that same night they rallied back from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter and Joe Johnson beat the Thunder doing what he does best: hitting a game-winner at the buzzer.

The Nets went 34-17 the rest of the way. And they found themselves in the process.

Playing small-ball. Switching and creating turnovers on defense. Draining 3-pointers and exploiting mismatches on offense. That became their identity.

Kidd -- minus his tie, plus a beard -- looked more and more comfortable. Pierce and Garnett became leaders, making things easier on the rest of the team. They also flourished in their new roles. Williams rebounded after the All-Star break and has made the Nets a better team both offensively and defensively. Johnson was a model of consistency. Livingston emerged as the team’s unsung hero. They became a dominant team at Barclays Center, winning a franchise-record 15 consecutive games there. All season, they have been able to overcome injuries and rest their veterans because King made sure to add depth.

But by the end of the regular season, it appeared their starters had checked out mentally, as if their thoughts were on the postseason. It is why they were all brought together, after all. Not to win an Atlantic Division championship, but an NBA title.

No one is installing the Nets as favorites to win it all. But given their regular-season dominance against the Heat and how poorly the Indiana Pacers played down the stretch, would it surprise you? Then again, would it surprise you if the Nets got ousted by the Raptors in the first round?

This is going to be a tough series. The Raptors are an excellent team. Williams and Co. are going to have their hands full with Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Jonas Valanciunas.

Terrence Ross said recently that he would prefer Brooklyn in the first round. And based on the way the Nets played in their final five games, it appears they preferred the Raptors just the same.

The Nets are healthy. And with the New York Knicks out, they are the city’s lone representative in the playoffs.

The time is now for this $190 million team -- the most expensive team in NBA history -- to prove itself and do what last season’s team could not do: make a deep playoff run.

The pressure is officially on.

Rapid Reaction: Cavaliers 114, Nets 85

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
10:26
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The Brooklyn Nets rebounded from a 10-21 start to finish 44-38 and secure the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

They closed out the regular season with a 114-85 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.

What it means: The most expensive team in NBA history will begin the playoffs on the road against the third-seeded, Atlantic Division-champion Toronto Raptors. Game 1 is Saturday at Air Canada Centre.

The skinny: The Nets and Raptors split their season series 2-2. Three of the four games were decided by four points or less. Brooklyn lost four of its final five games -- all to sub-.500 opponents. There is talk that the Nets were "tanking" to avoid a first-round matchup with the fourth-seeded Chicago Bulls, who eliminated them last season. Regardless, Toronto isn’t going to be a walk in the park by any means. By the way, if the Nets do advance, the two-time defending champion Miami Heat probably loom in Round 2. Brooklyn went 4-0 against Miami in the regular season. That would be fun.

Oh, Canada: The Raptors were 7-12 when they traded Rudy Gay. It was addition by subtraction. Remember when they were contemplating dealing Kyle Lowry to the New York Knicks … or Nets? Well, Lowry is their best player, a quick point guard who commands the attention of the entire defense. Toronto ranks in the top 10 in the NBA in both offensive and defensive efficiency. The Raptors are also an excellent 3-point-shooting team. The Nets are not good at defending the 3. Toronto’s bigs, Jonas Valanciunas and Amir Johnson, are underrated. The Raptors don’t turn the ball over much, but they did against Brooklyn. And you can’t forget about All-Star DeMar DeRozan or high-flyer Terrence Ross.

Biggest advantage? Experience. Toronto’s entire roster has just 156 games of playoff experience. By comparison, Paul Pierce has appeared in 136 postseason games, Kevin Garnett 131. Of course, this is Nets coach Jason Kidd’s first playoffs. It’ll be interesting to see how Kidd fares.

The key? The Nets must continue to be themselves. They turned their season around by playing small ball: exploiting mismatches and hitting 3-pointers on offense and switching and creating turnovers on defense. Deron Williams versus Lowry is the big matchup. Maybe Brooklyn doesn’t have to rely on Williams as much as it did last season, but he still needs to produce. Also, the Nets have to take care of business at Barclays Center, where they went 22-4 from Jan. 1 on.

Healthy team, healthy dream: Starters Williams, Shaun Livingston, Joe Johnson, Pierce and Garnett all sat out on Wednesday night.

Up next: Game 1 on Saturday at Air Canada Centre.

W2W4: Nets at Cavs

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
1:39
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The Brooklyn Nets close out the regular season on Wednesday night against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena. Here’s what we’ll be watching for:

Where will they finish? The Nets (44-37) have lost three of their last four games. They are currently the No. 5 seed in the East and can only finish sixth if they lose and the Washington Wizards (43-38) win in Boston. The Wizards have the tiebreaker (3-0 versus Nets in the regular season). Brooklyn will either face Toronto or Chicago in the first round of the playoffs.

Who is playing? We know -- at the very least -- that Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Shaun Livingston and Mirza Teletovic aren’t. Brooklyn’s goal probably is just to get out of this game healthy.

Nets coach Jason Kidd told reporters that Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will also sit, meaning Brooklyn’s starting lineup will include Jorge Gutierrez, Marquis Teague, Marcus Thornton, Andray Blatche and Jason Collins.

Stat to know: The veteran-laden Nets are 6-13 in the second game of back-to-back sets.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Brook Lopez
PTS AST STL MIN
20.7 0.9 0.5 31.4
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsK. Garnett 6.6
AssistsD. Williams 6.1
StealsD. Williams 1.5
BlocksB. Lopez 1.8

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