Is this the ideal scenario for Brooklyn? As they say in the borough, “Fuhgeddaboudit!”
It’s been a frigid winter in Brooklyn, and a trip to the “Windy City” could dampen any hopes of the Nets springing ahead to the next round.
“They don’t want to see Chicago,” an Eastern Conference executive told SheridanHoops.
Since Jan. 1, Brooklyn has gone 28-12 and has the best winning percentage (.700) of any Eastern Conference team. In addition, since Dec. 27, Brooklyn has won 19 of 21 home games and 12 in a row.
The reason for Brooklyn’s success is predominantly thanks to a small ball lineup with Paul Pierce at power forward and Kevin Garnett and Mason Plumlee anchoring the center position after Brook Lopez’s season-ending injury. In addition, Shaun Livingston has become a permanent fixture in the starting lineup as the primary floor general, while Deron Williams has since moved off the ball.
That lineup is ideal when facing a similar small ball team such as the Miami Heat, Atlanta Hawks, Milwaukee Bucks, Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz. The Nets have a combined 12-0 record against those teams.
Conversely, teams with a traditional frontcourt have caused the Nets woes. Brooklyn is a combined 0-12 against the Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, Portland Trail Blazers and Washington Wizards.
“It’s the three-man frontcourt combination because the Bulls are one of the few teams that don’t play with a stretch forward or a smaller guy,” the scout told SheridanHoops. “Whereas, the Nets have had success going to a smaller lineup. When you have Boozer posting up on Pierce, it’s going to be a long night for Pierce. It’s hard to go small against them because they’ll punish you. Physically, the Bulls will take a massive toll on them compared to any other team.”
Noah has become the league’s best all-around center. He leads all centers in triple-doubles (3) and ranks fourth in double-doubles (36).
The Bulls run the offense through Noah in the high post in addition to his nightly defensive coordinator role. They appear headed for home court advantage in the first round – an amazing feat considering Derrick Rose has missed most of the season and Luol Deng was traded.
Noah leads all centers in assists (5.09), assist percentage (25.5) and defensive rating (95.7), ranks second in minutes played (34.7), third in steals (1.2), fifth in rebounding (11.19), seventh in blocks (1.59) and free throws attempted (4.2), eighth in free throws made (3.07), ninth in PER (20.58) and 13th in scoring (12.41).
“Noah just wills that team and they find a way to win,” the Eastern Conference executive told SheridanHoops. “Noah is a game-changer. Toronto doesn’t have a game-changer.”
Toronto hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2007-08 season and has split the four-game season series with Brooklyn. That’s why one Western Conference scout who has seen both teams extensively believes Toronto is Brooklyn’s best bet to advance.
“My first impression would be the Raptors because they have less experience, not as good of a coach and the matchups are better,” the scout told SheridanHoops.
Toronto’s roster has played a combined 156 playoff games while Chicago’s roster has played a combined 366. Raptors core pieces such as DeMar DeRozan, Patrick Patterson, Terrence Ross and Jonas Valanciunas have yet to play a minute in the postseason.
Valanciunas, Patterson, Amir Johnson and Tyler Hansbrough don’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of opponents in the interior.
Seriously, how could we forget Hansbrough’s reaction when Metta World Peace confronted him?
Imagine if Garnett got in Hansbrough’s face?
Livingston has been a revelation for the Nets in a comeback season as the team’s best perimeter defender due to his size and length. He has seven inches on Lowry, which compensates for his disadvantage in speed.
As for DeRozan, Brooklyn can have Andrei Kirilenko shadow him effectively thanks to his ability to block shots as a help defender. Kirilenko, though not mistaken for a gazelle, is quicker than most forwards and can stay in front of DeRozan long enough to contest his shots thanks to his two-inch height advantage.
The task of stopping Noah and Boozer is more difficult. Garnett has lost two steps moving laterally on defense, Jason Collins is more of an enforcer than defensive presence, while Plumlee and Pierce don’t have the strength to win the rebounding battle in the trenches.
Even if Brooklyn is able to beat Chicago in a first-round series, Tom Thibodeau will maximize every ounce of effort from his team. An aging Nets roster isn’t built to withstand multiple rigorous playoff battles with quick turnarounds.
All of Brooklyn’s success against the back-to-back defending champs means nothing if it can’t make it far enough to face Miami in the Eastern Conference finals.
When the playoffs start, it’s clear the Nets would prefer to blow off a “Windy City” trip for a voyage up north.