The Brooklyn Nets capped off a thrilling victory over the Miami Heat on Tuesday night with an 88-87 victory down in South Beach, wrapping up a 4-0 sweep of the vaunted Heat this season. Brooklyn is the first team in Miami’s “Big 3” era to earn a four-game season sweep against them and has clearly figured it all out after a ghastly start to the season. The rest of the Eastern Conference is a hodgepodge of uncertainty, but one thing that is definitely for certain is that Brooklyn is a legitimate threat to make it to the NBA Finals despite of where they might be seeded. They are 33-13 since the calendar turned to 2014, a stark contrast to the rest of the conference.
The matchup ended in emphatic fashion, and a controversial one depending on who you ask (LeBron). The world’s best player corralled a pass and went up for a game-winning dunk attempt with two seconds left where he was sent away emphatically by rookie Mason Plumlee. The Nets have gotten a huge boost from their rookie in the absence of All-Stars Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett down low, and his emergence has gone a long way towards propelling them up the ranks.
NBA pundits mostly understood that the East would come down to Miami and the Indiana Pacers. No one else was believed to have any chance. That is not the case anymore with the Pacers falling off a cliff after dealing Danny Granger for Evan Turner and signing Andrew Bynum. They have exhibited poor team chemistry and complete offensive ineptitude, leaving the door open for another team from the East to step forward. That team is the Brooklyn Nets.
Brooklyn is keeping the handcuffs on Garnett likely until the playoffs, where his return gives them an injection of defensive tenacity and rebounding that they sorely need. Brooklyn’s problem early was scoring, but that has been fixed as the veterans have learned how to coexist and both the newcomers and youngsters have adapted to their respective roles. The Nets had scored at least 100 points in 11 of their previous 12 games prior to beating the Heat. No one on the roster is putting up eye-popping stats, but the Nets have an unbelievable amount of depth that could definitely put a wedge between them and Miami come playoff time.
Other teams in the Eastern Conference are starting to round into form, but it would be difficult to envision anyone besides Chicago putting a scare into Indiana, and especially Miami. The Raptors have been probably the surprise team in the league and are marching towards the No. 3 seed. If they slip to No. 4, it would be very tough for them to possibly come out on top in a matchup with the Nets.
In the Nets’ four battles with Miami this season, they won three of the games by exactly one point, and won the other in overtime. Miami has generally looked a bit more vulnerable this season than in years past. They will once again only go as far as their Big 3 can take them, but Dwyane Wade has become a constant uncertainty and the Nets have much more depth to their roster. No one is predicting anything yet, but the Nets are the biggest threat to end the Heat’s three-year run at the top of the East.
Commentary by Justin Hussong