How sad a predicament we've been reduced to in the Eastern Conference, where the only match-up we can look to for any kind of salvation or drama at all involves the rapidly decomposing corpses of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce?
Thanks a pants-full, Pacers.
As you've no doubt heard, the Nets did go 4-0 in the regular season against Miami, yet somehow they're not seen as prohibitive favorites in this series the way the Thunder would likely be against the Spurs. Rather, it's just the opposite, where nobody -- and I mean nobody -- is giving Brooklyn a chance, with all the experts vacillating between a Heat sweep and a triumph in Game 7.
It's true enough that the Nets give Miami specific and unique match-up problems. Like Grantland's Zach Lowe pointed out, Brooklyn gives Miami's defense fits because they don't run much of a pick-and-roll offense. The Heat thrive on forcing turnovers with their intense pressure on the pick-and-roll and turning those turnovers into easy buckets for LeBron James. Just taking the full 24 second shot clock each possession and putting up a shot -- any shot -- and making Miami rely on its half-court offense is often a victory in and of itself against the Heat.
When you add to that equation the tricky size mismatches the Nets can exploit with their large perimeter people like Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston on Ray Allen, Dwyane Wade and point guards Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole. LeBron James will probably be assigned the task of slowing down a red-hot Joe Johnson, which will free up Pierce to go to work against a less capable defender, unless the Heat want to bring Shane Battier out of mothballs. Regardless, the Nets have enough savvy vets to find a mismatches regardless of whether they have to do it by whipping the ball around the perimeter, ISOing, or posting up. Guys like Garnett and Pierce can even find cutters off the high post if they want to. There isn't a combination Miami can throw out there where the Nets won't have an advantage somewhere.
Of course James is the ultimate mismatch. Pierce or Livingston can do a decent job on him, but ultimately if James is on his game and his shot is falling, there isn't much anyone can do to stop him. It's not a question of whether he will or won't take over games, it's just a question of degree and how long those stretches of domination will last. The more interesting question, of course, is with Wade. We never know what to expect with him anymore. If he's ordinary, Miami can be beat by nearly anyone worthwhile. If he's at an All-Star level, it's next to impossible. The Heat have had so much rest sweeping Charlotte while all the other series went the distance, that it's hard to imagine Wade not being as healthy as he's been all year. If Wade outperforms Johnson in this series -- heck if it's even close -- the Nets don't have much of a chance.
Brooklyn can win, but they need a ton of things to go their way. They need the Johnson of round one to sustain his form. They need Garnett to play the best two weeks of his season when he's spent the entire year stealing money. They need bench guys like Mason Plumlee, Andray Blatche, Alan Anderson and Andrei Kirilenko to significantly outplay their counterparts. When Miami's role players hit threes at a good clip, it's over. Mostly they need their best player, Williams, to be their best player. He has to dominate these games, to the point where the Heat are desperate enough to switch James onto him.
Brooklyn's formula in the regular season has been to keep these games at arm's length and to pull them out late with clutch play. Can they do it four more times?
I'll believe it when I see it. I just think Garnett is too old, Pierce is too streak and Williams is too mentally soft when it matters. I'd like the Nets' chances so much more if they had Rajon Rondo.
Heat in seven.
Fun fact: At some point this series James will throw down a vicious dunk over Plumlee. He will flex and strut and shout and mean mug. And you'll think to yourself, "This is supposed to be one of the best handful of players of all time, and he's acting like a that because he dunked on Mason freakin' Plumlee?"
P.S.: PtR has been wall-to-wall Spurs-Blazers previews the last couple days so the last thing you need is another one from me. I'll say Spurs in six, for the record. My totally original angle on the series is that playing against Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis for seven games was the best way possible to prep for LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard.
Now, if you excuse me, I'm gonna find something to deal with this case of nervous vomiting I feel coming on.