As the Raptors and Nets settled Game 7, the Miami Heat were resting and waiting for their next opponent. But instead of getting an answer, they got a riddle- one that they were unable to solve in four games during the regular season: The Brooklyn Nets.
The 2013-14 Nets are the only NBA team in the Big Three era to sweep the Miami Heat in a regular season series. But do the Nets really have the Heat in check?
Let’s find out:
Getting the Monkey Off Their Backs
Game 1 will be the most crucial for the Miami Heat. First of all, they’ve lost four straight to the Nets. Before this season started, the Nets had lost 13 straight games to the Heat. The last time they beat Miami was in March 20,2009 and there was no Big Three at that time. The Nets were playing at East Rutherford New Jersey. But that’s distant history right now.
What we know is that the Nets swept the Heat 4-0 during the regular season. Game 1 will be more than just keeping home court advantage, it will be fighting for a psychological win. No matter how the Heat deny it, the Nets are in their heads. A win in Game 1 will set a new tone. A loss could spell immediate doom.
Rhythm or Rest?
The Nets have just beaten the Raptors on May 4. The Heat last played on April 28 while Game 1 is set on May 6.With the long break, Lebron James was able to rest the sore thigh which he hurt in Game 4. James declared that he’ll be somewhere near 100% in Game 1. Dywane Wade said they were already getting tired of practice. Wade added that they want to get back to the court, to the playoffs and get their rhythm back.
Last season, they swept the Bucks in the first round and after a similarly long lay-off in between rounds, a rusty Heat squad got ambushed by the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the 2nd round. They do not want to let lightning strike twice.
Brooklyn definitely has the rhythm and momentum on its side. But the tough series has made Joe Johnson play an average of eight more minutes per game. Deron Williams is doing four more minutes per game while Paul Pierce is getting two more minutes per game in the series. Will these extended minutes be a factor for the Nets? Or will pure adrenalin rush will them on?
The Heat swept the Bobcats by beating them with an average margin of 9.75 points per game. In the entire series, Miami had an average lead of 12 points going into the fourth quarter. The 2014 first round playoffs have been so far the most competitive in NBA history. This was the sole exception. Miami could’ve won the series on auto-pilot.
On the other hand, the Nets lost two out of three home games in the first round. But they won three on the road, including Game 1 and the most important of them all-Game 7.This series won’t be an easy series for the Heat. They haven’t been really tested in the first round. On the other hand, the Nets have been taken to the limit.
King vs the Truth
Everyone remembers the Game 7 duel at the TD Garden in the 2008 playoffs. Lebron James had a monster 45 point performance. But it was Paul Pierce’s 41 points that carried the Celitcs to that Game 7 victory. But that wasn’t the only memorable battle they’ve had.
In 2006, Pierce shot 50 points in a double overtime game against the Cavs. James played 50 minutes and wound up with a triple double statline of 43 points 12 rebounds and 11 assists. The Cavs won that game. In 2004, James scored 37 points in the second highest scoring game of his rookie season. Pierce dropped 41 points on the Cavs as the Celtics prevailed.
According to Dwyane Wade, Paul Pierce is the closest thing to a rival for Lebron James because they make it tough on each other. To date, Paul Pierce has a winning lifetime record over Lebron James at 32-28. But a key point is that James owns the upper hand in the postseason, winning their match up 13-12. James has not lost a playoff series to Pierce since 2010.
The Heat line-up is impressive. That Heat line up is clearly 9 man deep. While Mike Miller is gone, veteran shooters like Rashard Lewis and Ray Allen can do the Miller role. Allen did his thing in Game 6 of last season’s finals. James Jones came out of nowhere to score 12 points in Game 1. Something’s telling us that one of these three will have a signature game soon in these playoffs.
The X factors for the Nets will definitely be the two men who were brought in to get them past the first round and beyond: Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Pierce will always be that great leader and scorer. While Garnett’s tenacity and anger have always fueled any of his teams. While these two will not score big stats on a daily basis, they will score big in the bench and in the locker room.
Like the other New York team, the Nets are supposed to be built to beat the Heat. Miami has been the barometer of the eastern conference, and to get to the finals everyone has got to beat the heat. This is Brooklyn’s version: Bosh vs KG, James vs Pierce and Wade vs Joe Johnson. DeRon Williams doesn’t have a match up, although the Heat bench is a lot better than the Nets’ bench. But bench aside, Brooklyn is one star up.
Taking it to the Next Level
Kevin Durant is a cinch to dethrone Lebron James as the NBA MVP. But while Durant has struggled and has been called Mr. Unreliable in the playoffs, look at how James has played in the first round: He’s increased his scoring average by 2 points by going to the foul line 3.4 more times per game. James has also increased his rebounds and steals and average in the post season. This just means that James is taking his game to the next level by playing tougher defense and not settling for jump shots.
By all accounts, James is the best player in the post season so far. And he hasn’t been pushed to the limit yet. James has always risen to the occasion, and that’s what the Nets should be wary about.
The series will start in two days. And while the Nets are looking to prove that the season sweep wasn’t a fluke, the Miami Heat are dead serious about getting the three peat. It’s undoubtedly the most interesting pairing in the playoffs right now. It’s not just a series, it’s a rivalry-much like the Lakers and Celtics of the 80’s. It’s got the recipe of a great series which could be one for the ages. And we’re about to be witnesses.