The Brooklyn Nets have been a very interesting story all season. Even before it started, they were making headlines. They acquired Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry (remember him?) from the Boston Celtics. They also hired Nets legend Jason Kidd as head coach only a few weeks after his retirement as a player. Through all of this, fans and media began to hold the Nets to an extremely high standard and considered them to be "Heat-killers." Then, the season got under way.
As no Nets fan needs to be told, the beginning of the season was absolutely dreadful. The team failed to play well under Kidd, and it appeared that he and assistant coach Lawrence Frank were not getting along on the sidelines. Frank was reassigned and Kidd took the reigns. The team still played poorly, leading many (including myself) to begin to call for the firing of Jason Kidd in favor of someone with more coaching experience. Then, something crazy happened- they started winning.
Whether you believe in fate or not, it was definitely a huge boost for the Nets to win in Oklahoma City on New Year's Day. That win propelled was the start of a five game winning streak, ended by the Toronto Raptors. After that loss, they rattled off another five straight wins. 2014 was looking up.
Since the new year, the Nets have been a brand new team. A team that had only 10 wins in 2013 had 10 in January alone. At the time of this writing, the Nets have a 31-12 record in 2014 and play the Knicks tonight in a game they should win.
After beating the Houston Rockets, the Nets clinched a playoff spot, their second appearance in the playoffs as the Brooklyn Nets. This leads me to the point of the article- can the Nets realistically represent the Eastern Conference?
Yes, a lot has been said about the Indiana Pacers and the Miami Heat, and deservedly so. The Heat have been to three straight NBA Finals, and the Pacers have been extremely impressive all season long. However, there is one thing that the Nets have that the Pacers do not- experience.
The Pacers are a very good team. I'd argue that they're in the top 4 teams in the NBA, period. However, having Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, whether or not they're on the court, is huge for a Brooklyn Nets team that wants to take that next step. It also helps that players such as Joe Johnson and Deron Williams have also played in many playoff series in their times and have played well in them.
The Nets can match up well against almost any team in the NBA due to this. When Paul Pierce is playing like we know he can, there are few better than him. Look to any game against LeBron James and it's clear that Pierce can still play. While Garnett has missed a decent amount of time this season, it's looking more and more likely that he will be ready when the playoffs start. The Nets have the better point guard in Deron Williams, and when you have a team that features shooters such as Pierce and Johnson, it's hard to imagine them being dominated by anyone in the playoffs.
The Pacers may be a bit more challenging for the Nets to play against. Roy Hibbert is a nice player, and the Nets may have trouble with the 7'2 big man. Paul George is a superstar and will be public enemy number one for any team that plays them. The one thing that the Nets can match the Pacers in, though, is toughness. With Garnett, the Nets have been a much more hard-nosed team and refuse to lie down for anyone.
The biggest need for the Nets this year is that they guarantee themselves home court advantage for as much of the playoffs as they can. They've won 14 straight home games (at the time of this writing) and show no signs of slowing. If the Nets can secure a top four seeding, which does look likely, I see no reason that they don't make it to at least the second round.
But, this is about their NBA Finals chances. As I've said all season, and I am on record saying it on 88.7 FM here on Long Island, that the Nets would at the very least take the Heat to a seven game series. I truly believe they could beat them in that series, as well.
LeBron is the best player in the game, and likely the best to ever live. Despite this, he and the Heat were unable to beat the Nets once this season, one year removed from a season where they dominated the Brooklyn Boys every chance they had. If you're looking for proof that Pierce and Garnett are huge additions to the team, look no further than this.
Again, my biggest fear with the Nets is that they would lose to the Indiana Pacers in a seven game series. While Hibbert's stats have not been as good as advertised, I think he would still give the Nets fits due to his size alone. It'd be interesting to see if Pierce can get up for George the same way he does for LeBron as well.
But should the Nets be considered a dark horse? Absolutely.
In a sport that is so top heavy and most people's picks are either Miami, Indiana, San Antonio, Los Angeles (Clippers), or Oklahoma City, I'd advise people to not take the Nets lightly. The way they've played has gone past a hot streak, it is legitimate- this is a good basketball team. If the Nets were to win even five more games in the 2013 calendar year, they'd be regarded as a much better team with a real chance to win 50 games this year.
If I had one tip for LeBron James and the Miami Heat, I'd say circle April 9th on your calendar, because that might be the most important win you can get this regular season. The Brooklyn Nets are a legitimate team, and could be the team we thought they were before the season started.