Looking at the results of the head to head match-ups between the Brooklyn Nets and the Miami Heat, one might get the impression that the Heat were dominated by the Nets this year. The Nets were 4-0 against the two-time defending champs, and actually do pose a bit of a problem for the Heat. However, a closer look at the season series reveals a fuzzier picture. The four game season series ended with a cumulative score of 377-389. The only multi-point victory for the Nets came after two overtimes. Regulation between the two teams ended with their point sums ridiculously close, with Brooklyn only scoring three total points more than Miami, in four games. Now with the teams facing off in a best of seven series, the games could be even more hard fought.
Coming into the season, one of the advantages Brooklyn had was their center, Brook Lopez. Miami’s detractors often point out how they play without a true center, and legitimate post players do pose a problem for them (see Roy Hibbert in last year’s playoffs). However, Miami is more than used to playing their very particular style, and having a shooter in Chris Bosh at center really helps space their offense, allowing Lebron James and Dwyane Wade to get into the paint. Now, the Nets’ true advantage comes from Kevin Garnett, who is better suited to guarding other big men on the perimeter than Lopez.
Garnett, who only played in two of the Nets’ four regular season games against the Heat, had a cumulative plus/minus of plus-20. He has lost several steps, but as shown in the Toronto series he can still bang around and plays the pick and roll well, particularly when paired with Shaun Livingston. Additionally, although Garnett missed a lot of time this season, he led the league in individual rebounding percentage. He remains a valuable player on defense.
Miami has the single biggest advantage in the series, and in any individual game, because they have the world’s greatest basketball player. James cannot be defended individually, and even when team’s focus on him, which is nearly always, he makes them pay with his passing, rebounding, defense, spot-up shooting, and efficiency, which is probably James’ most underrated ability. While Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson will see the majority of the time against James on defense, the Nets may be better suited to letting the long-armed Livingston guard James on critical possessions.
Brooklyn may be able to find success by exploiting the match-up of Williams against Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers, both of whom had trouble guarding the much bigger Nets point guard. The same issue can be exposed if Wade ends up guarding Johnson, who will have a post advantage. The Nets’ size on the court at every position except center is what allowed them to outlast Toronto, and is what helped them turn from one of the worst to one of the best teams in the NBA going from the first to second half of the year. Miami will have an advantage getting to the paint, and the massive free-throw differential the Nets had over the Raptors will not be shared in this series. Look for free throws to be more evenly divided.
Brooklyn gave Miami a lot of trouble all year, even before they turned up their level of play in January. Expect a long, close series that should last six or seven games. The Nets are almost as experienced in the playoffs as Miami is, have already upset a higher seeded team, and have their top player in Daren Williams at his best right now. Brooklyn over Miami, four games to three.
Commentary by Brian Moore