Tuesday, May 6, 2014

East Round 2 Preview: (2) Miami Heat vs. (6) Brooklyn Nets

Chris Bosh isn't the most heralded member of the Miami Heat, but he plays a pivotal role in this series.
By Jeremy Conlin (@jeremy_conlin)

By The Numbers

54-28 (32-9 Home; 22-19 Road)
PPG: 102.2 (12th); PPG Allowed: 97.4 (5th)
+4.8 Average Scoring Margin (T-4th)
Off Rating: 109.0 (2nd); Def Rating: 102.9 (11th)
+6.1 Net Efficiency Rating (4th)

44-38 (28-13 Home; 16-25 Road)
PPG: 98.5 (21st); PPG Allowed: 99.5 (11th)
-1.0 Average Scoring Margin (19th)
Off Rating: 104.4 (14th); Def Rating: 104.9 (19th)
-0.5 Net Efficiency Rating (17th)

Season Series: Brooklyn 4-0
Brooklyn 101, Miami 100 (November 1)
Brooklyn 104, Miami 95 - 2OT (January 10)
Brooklyn 96, Miami 95 (March 12)
Brooklyn 88, Miami 87 (April 8)

Players To Watch

Chris Bosh

The last time Miami played a Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce team was in the 2012 Eastern Finals. That series went seven games, in large part because Bosh missed the first five with an oblique injury. Bosh returned to the lineup for Game 6 and the Heat promptly spanked the living crap out of Boston. They won by 19 in Boston in Game 6 (the now-infamous 45-15-5 from LeBron) and won by 13 in Game 7 with Bosh scoring 19 points on 10 shots.

This is relevant because one of the arguments for Brooklyn beating Miami (we'll get to others later) is that Pierce-Garnett teams have historically given Miami (or, more specifically, LeBron) trouble. They beat him in 2008 (expected), upset him in 2010 (a shocker at the time), and played them much tougher than anyone expected in 2012. What they leave out is that Miami made quick work of Boston in 2011 (they won in five and none of the games were that close) and 2012 was only close because Bosh was out for the first five games. Since the [Miami] Big Three came together, they're 6-1 against Pierce-KG teams in the playoffs with Bosh on the court. Given that Bosh is healthy for this series, that's kind of relevant.

It will be up to Bosh to pull Garnett (or whoever is playing the 5 for Brooklyn) away from the basket (you know, like he does for every opponent). Brooklyn has taken to playing only one big man and four perimeter players (Pierce at the four, Joe Johnson, Shaun Livingston/Marcus Thornton/Alan Anderson depending on matchups, and Deron Williams at point guard), so if Bosh pulls Garnett away from the basket, the middle of the floor will be wide open for LeBron and Wade to attack the paint.

Paul Pierce

If there's anyone on the Nets roster that's (a) not afraid of Miami, and (b) in a position to actually make a big difference in substantial minutes, it's Pierce. (Garnett qualifies for A, but not B - he topped out at 26 minutes in Round 1 and has played more than 30 minutes only once all season.) Pierce is far from the player he used to be, but if Brooklyn needs to turn to a player to check LeBron and try to match him shot-for-shot down the stretch, they'll turn to Pierce.

That will either go very well or very poorly. Pierce will either be able to go toe-to-toe with LeBron and steal a game or two for Brooklyn, or he'll think he can play like he's still 2008 Paul Pierce, only to be rejected by Father Time and embarrass himself. There's really no in-between. At some point in this series, Paul Pierce will decide that it's time for Paul Pierce to put his foot down against LeBron once and for all. How he performs in those scenarios will decide the series.

The Case For Miami

They're the two-time defending champs with the best player on the planet playing against a team that had a negative average scoring margin and just became the worst playoff team (by average scoring margin) to win a series in over a decade. There's not much else to that equation.

The only argument against them is that Brooklyn won the season series 4-0. That's a nice sentiment, but Wade didn't play in two of those games, and if you recall back to 2011, the Celtics and Bulls were a combined 7-1 against Miami in the regular season. The Heat followed that up by winning 8 of 10 against those teams in the playoffs. The way teams match up in the regular season versus how they match up in the playoffs is, well, different. Especially with Erik Spoelstra (a top-five coach in the league by any estimation) matching wits with Jason Kidd (a rookie head coach). 

Best-Case Scenario: With Garnett distracted by Bosh 20 feet from the basket, LeBron and Wade turn the series into a layup line. Miami's speed advantage at nearly every position swallows up Brooklyn's offense - the Joe Johnson curls into the paint that killed Toronto don't work against LeBron. A rested Miami team makes quick work of an old Brooklyn team coming off a grueling seven-game slugfest and sweep them easily.

The Case For Brooklyn

Well, they did win all four regular season games.

They're a very experienced, very proud team. Their small lineups actually match up well with Miami - they force a lot of turnovers and shoot a lot of threes, two great ways to increase variance and give underdogs a chance. If Wade is less than healthy, and Garnett can neutralize Bosh, all of a sudden it will be LeBron having to go 1-on-5 against a veteran defense, something that Brooklyn will be well-equipped to slow down. The Nets have a number of bodies to throw at LeBron, from Pierce, to Johnson, to Kirilenko, to Livingston (although LeBron would probably kill him down low), which at the very least might keep him off balance and prevent those insane 36-14-12 games.

Best-Case Scenario: Wade struggles with his usual knee foibles and going against bigger, longer defenders. Pierce goes toe-to-toe with LeBron and the Nets steal a game in Miami. Garnett punks Bosh, Brooklyn's small lineups force turnovers by the fistful and Thornton and Anderson come off the bench and rain threes. Brooklyn steals Game 5 in Miami and the closes out the series in six.

The Pick

Miami in 5.

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