Monday, May 5, 2014
Matchups: Nets vs. Heat
By Mike Mazzeo
Who will win this second-round Eastern Conference playoff series: the Brooklyn Nets or the Miami Heat?
Let’s take a look at the matchups to figure it out:
POINT GUARD: Deron Williams has been up-and-down so far, averaging 17.5 points and 5.8 assists on 41.7 percent shooting. When Williams played well against the Toronto Raptors, the Nets won (3-0). When he didn’t, they usually didn’t (1-3). Williams tweaked his left ankle in Game 6 and shot just 3-for-8 from the field in Game 7. Brooklyn can’t afford this type of inconsistent play from its franchise point guard in this series with Miami. Williams needs to come out in attack mode and stay in attack mode.
Mario Chalmers may take heat from his teammates, he is a really nice complementary piece in Miami’s puzzle. Chalmers is a quality shooter from the perimeter (45.5 percent 3-point range) and doesn’t shy away from the big moment.
SHOOTING GUARD: Alan Anderson started the last two games of the first round. Anderson can’t handle the ball like Shaun Livingston, but he can shoot from distance -- not one of Livingston’s strengths. Both Anderson and Livingston are tenacious defenders, and guarding Dwyane Wade is an extremely tough assignment.
Wade’s minutes restriction has been lifted for the playoffs, and he looked like his old self against the Charlotte Bobcats, averaging 17.5 points in 33 minutes. Wade, who had been suffering from chronic knee soreness, was at his best in Game 1 of the series, when he scored 23 points on 10-for-16 shooting. When healthy, Wade is the total package, a guard who gets to the rim, thrives in transition and can hit a jumper as well.
SMALL FORWARD: Joe Johnson has been Brooklyn’s best player so far in the postseason. He averaged 20.1 points on 51.8 percent shooting against the Raptors, while logging a staggering 40.2 minutes per game. The 32-year-old is the consummate scorer, inflicting the majority of his damage on smaller defenders while operating out of the post. The Nets were so much better defensively with him on the court (100.1 on-court rating versus 127.3 off-court rating). Of course, Johnson is going up against one of the best players of all-time.
LeBron James’ first-round stats were unreal: four games, 30.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists, 2.3 steals, 55.7 percent shooting, 39.3 minutes. Defending James is going to have to be a team effort. Expect him to be highly-motivated for this series after what happened during the regular season.
POWER FORWARD: Paul Pierce still has it. It is the ability to make huge plays in playoff games. You saw his offense late in Game 1. You saw his huge block late in Game 7. Pierces loves facing James. The two have squared off in 25 career playoff games. James has won 13 of those. Pierce averaged 21.3 points against the Heat in the regular season -- his highest scoring average against any team.
Udonis Haslem only averages 16 minutes per game. He’s a battle-tested veteran, a role player that understands his role and does it well.
CENTER: Kevin Garnett played a total of 52 minutes in Games 6 and 7, as his minutes restriction was lifted. He was extremely productive, scoring 25 points, snagging 16 rebounds and amassing three blocks. He also made 10 of his 15 shots. Garnett has been a defensive anchor and vocal leader for his team all season. And that’s exactly what the Nets need him to be against Miami.
Chris Bosh has added a 3-point shot to his repertoire. He shot 69.2 percent from downtown against the Bobcats -- averaging 3.3 attempts per game. Bosh averaging 14.5 points and 5.3 rebounds in the series -- though you can bet those numbers will go up against the Nets. He’s a terrific player.
BENCH: Brooklyn’s bench wasn’t very good against Toronto until Game 7, when its reserves scored 38 points. Still, their talent is undeniable, and the Nets are going to need big minutes from players like Andray Blatche, Mirza Teletovic and Marcus Thornton against the Heat.
Miami’s bench has some really nice players: Ray Allen, Chris Anderson, Norris Cole and James Jones to name a few. Collectively, the Heat reserves shot 38.1 percent from 3-point range against Charlotte.
COACH: Jason Kidd became the first rookie coach (in 19 tries) to win a Game 7 on the road. Kidd’s adjustments in the final games of the series -- inserting Anderson into the starting lineup and putting his faith in Blatche, really paid dividends. Early on in the series, it was hard not to criticize Kidd for his late-game rotations and not playing Garnett enough. His $25,000 fine for ripping the officials -- clearly a calculated move -- was money well-spent.
There’s really not much that needs to be said about Erik Spoelstra. He’s been able to mesh James, Wade and Bosh and maximize their values in his system. One of the bright young minds in the game, Spoelstra has exceeded despite out-of-this-world expectations by guiding his team to back-to-back titles.
Prediction: The Nets’ blueprint for beating the Heat in the regular season was simple: play the game at their pace (slow), while limiting Miami’s second-chance and transition opportunities. And, of course, coming up with huge plays in crunch-time. That always happened, which equaled three one-point wins and one double-overtime triumph. But that was the regular season. And it’s hard to image Brooklyn playing four more perfect games against Miami. One? Two? Maybe three? Fine. But four? Eh. Plus, I’ve found that it’s never a good idea to pick against LeBron. There’s a reason he’s won four MVPs and two championships. That said, would it be shocking if the Nets were somehow able to pull the upset? Nah. Not really. But still ... HEAT IN 6.