When this Brooklyn Nets team was assembled this offseason, owner Mikhail Prokhorov declared it championship or bust. They brought in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett from the Boston Celtics and Jason Terry from the Dallas Mavericks, all of whom are on the wrong side of 35. But put them with star guards Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, along with center Brook Lopez, and this team was supposed to be one of the best in the league.
Brooklyn also hired the recently retired Jason Kidd to be this team's head coach. Even though he had just come off the playing floor and had no previous coaching experience, it wouldn't be a big deal with so many veterans on the team, right?
Well, it turns out it took a while. The Nets started the year with a 10-21 record - bad for any team, but awful for a team that had this level of expectations.
Question marks were being raised all over the place: Is Kidd really the right coach? Are they just too old? Or are they just simply not that good?
Then the calendar turned to 2014, and Brooklyn's been tearing it up. They finished the season with a 34-17 mark and are playing as well as anyone in the league. However, that terrible start has them strapped to the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference and will face the tough Toronto Raptors who beat them in the first round last year.
Remember four years ago when Deron Williams was the best point guard in the league while he was tearing the league apart in Utah? That seems like forever ago, especially considering how pedestrian he's played since he became a Net.
Williams had a decent season in 2013-14 (14.4 ppg, 6.2 apg, 1.5 spg), but his production dropped heavily from his days with the Jazz (21.3 ppg, 9.7 apg, 1.2 spg). He still shows flashes of his old self from time to time, and Brooklyn's going to need him to play like that more often than not if they want to be a serious threat in the East.
This was one of the more odd statistics of the NBA season, but Brooklyn sweeping their four game season series over the defending champion Miami Heat was a huge surprise. The additions of Pierce and Garnett have seemed to bolster the Nets in this respect, carrying over the success they had against the Heat while the duo was in Boston.
A large reason for their success is their advantage in matchups. Miami is the weakest at the point guard and in the post, which is where Brooklyn is at their best. Williams holds a major advantage over Heat guard Mario Chalmers, and the trio of Joe Johnson, Pierce, and Garnett match up reasonably well on both ends of the floor with Miami's Big 3.
Brooklyn knew how much they've struggled against both the Bulls and the Pacers this year, so they lost the last two games of the year that put them on track to face the Raptors and the Heat in the first two rounds instead.
Sometimes losing IS the best thing for your team.
Brooklyn continues their late-season surge and just have too much offense, and beat the Raptors in the first round. Miami continues to struggle against Brooklyn, and the Nets upset Miami in six games. Then they face the Pacers, who are still in their terrible funk, and the Nets ride their recent strong play all the way to the NBA Finals, where they lose to a Western Conference team that's just better than them.
Toronto uses the energy and excitement of being in the playoffs for the first time in forever to beat the Nets easily in the first round.
The Nets aren't higher up in the Eastern Conference standings because they had such a slow start to the season, but they've been playing really good basketball for the last half of the year. They're too talented offensively to be severely limited over a seven-game series, and I don't think the Raptors are going to be able to defend well enough to beat them four times. Their tanking gave them a great second round matchup (for them) with Miami, but the Heat know how to turn it on in the playoffs and I think will pull the series out in seven games.
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