Miami Heat v Brooklyn Nets

NBA Playoff Preview: Brooklyn Nets vs. Miami Heat

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REGULAR SEASON RECORDS

Brooklyn Nets: 44-38 (6 seed in the East)

Miami Heat: 54-28 (2 seed in the East)

The Nets beat the Raptors in seven games in the first round, while the Heat cruised in four to a sweep over the Bobcats.

KEY INJURIES

None.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possessions)

Nets: Offense: 104.4 (14th in the NBA). Defense: 104.9 (19th in the NBA)

Heat: Offense: 109.0 (2nd in the NBA). Defense: 102.9 (11th in the NBA)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

Brooklyn swept Miami 4-0 in the regular season. What does that mean? As Erik Spoelstra told reporters at a recent practice, “Depends on who you ask.” There are reasons for both the Nets to be encouraged, and for the Heat to be dismissive. On Brooklyn’s side, three of the victories came by a single point, and the fourth required overtime to be decided — all of which proves that the Nets were able to out-execute the defending champs over the closing possessions to pull out hard-fought victories.

For Miami, they can look to the timing of the games, as well as the lineups they played which were at times much different than the ones they’ll be trotting out to open the second round series. One of their losses came in the second game of the season on Nov. 1, a lifetime ago by NBA standards. And in the final meeting between the teams on April 8, Dwyane Wade sat out, and Miami started Shane Battier and Toney Douglas — both of whom received DNP-CDs for essentially the entirety of the first round series against the Bobcats.

The Nets have confidence that few playoff opponents have been able to against Miami — but they also have the Heat’s full attention.

Joe Johnson vs. the Miami defense: Johnson more than anyone else was the one who consistently carried the offensive load for the Nets in the first round, and when Toronto shut him down by holding him to just seven points in Game 4, Brooklyn managed just 79 points in the loss. Double-teaming him can be tricky, as the Raptors found out in Game 7 when Johnson was able to make good decisions and the ball whipped around the perimeter, often beating Toronto’s rotations and resulting in wide open looks from three-point distance.

Miami has historically been able to defend on a string in the postseason, and it’s one of several key reasons that they’ve won consecutive titles. Whether or not they can do so against Johnson and the rest of the Nets will be a major factor in this series.

LeBron James vs. the Brooklyn defense: When the game’s best player is on the floor, you can’t underestimate the impact he’ll have on the series. LeBron averaged 30 points per game while shooting 55.7 percent from the floor in the first round against the Bobcats, who all season long have been one of the better defensive teams in the league. The Nets can’t allow that level of efficiency from James, and they’ll need to find ways to force him into contested shots — or better yet, force him to take less of them.

Brooklyn doesn’t appear to be equipped defensively to stop or even slow James. But if they can get him to try to do too much, or at the very least force other players who aren’t four-time MVPs to step up and make plays, life will be a little easier.

PREDICTION

There is a lot to like about this Nets team. They have the best record in the East since January, have veterans like Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Joe Johnson who won’t be intimidated by Miami’s championship resume, and they closed out a feisty Raptors team on the road in a Game 7 in front of an incredible home crowd that likely won’t be replicated in the postseason.

It’s tempting to take the Nets in 7.

But picking against LeBron in the playoffs hasn’t worked out for anyone since June of 2011, so let’s go with the Heat in 7 instead.

Three Things We Learned Wednesday: Kevin Durant saves his best games for Thunder

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 18:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors dribbles past Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at ORACLE Arena on January 18, 2017 in Oakland, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Here are the big takeaways from a busy night around the NBA:

1) Kevin Durant saves his best games for going against Thunder. Kevin Durant’s highest-scoring game this season was 39 points, something he broke out the first time his new Warriors team faced his old Thunder squad. That changed Wednesday night when Durant scored an incredibly efficient 40 points on 16 shots — again against the Thunder. Just in case there wasn’t enough salt rubbed in that OKC wound.

Whatever you think of his choice, Kevin Durant’s team is way better than Russell Westbrook‘s. Which we expected and was part of the reason Durant made the move — he is closer to a ring now than he was before. Part of that is obviously what Durant brings to their offense — and how efficiently he’s been doing it this season, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9, his career best (for some perspective, the league average is around 52). But he’s also been bringing it on the defensive end this season, particularly of late, having a strong game against LeBron James Monday then doing well when switched onto Westbrook a couple of times in this game.

Westbrook himself had a triple-double (that’s 21 this season) in the loss… actually, it was a quadruple-double when you throw in the 10 turnovers. Westbrook wasn’t efficient, hitting 8-of-23 from the field, and when he isn’t this team struggles to win, they rely on him that much. Of course, that’s not the play everyone is talking about — it’s Zaza Pachulia with the hard foul, and then taunting Westbrook by standing over him.

When Westbrook saw that, he promised to “get his ass back.” These teams meet again in March — when Durant returns to Oklahoma City for the first time in a Warriors’ uniform.

Bonus thing we saw: Russell Westbrook had the travel of the year (and Kemba Walker tried to top him).
Even in the NBA, this is a travel — and a funny one.

Earlier in the night, Kemba Walker got away with one almost as bad.

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2) The Sixers beat the Raptors and have now won 7-of-9.
When the run of wins from the Sixers started, it was easy to say “they are just beating other weak teams.” Then they beat the Bucks. Thursday night they beat the Raptors. Brett Brown has settled on a 10-man rotation, found lineups he likes with Joel Embiid starting (surrounded by shooters) and Nerlens Noel relieving him off the bench. Plus, the Sixers are finding their defensive identity.

Still, this all comes back to Embiid — the Sixers are outscoring teams by 3.5 points per 100 possessions when he is on the court this season. He had 26 points — including 12-of-14 from the free throw line — plus nine rebounds against Toronto.


3) Rudy Gay is out for the season, which changes West playoff chase and trade picture.
This is bad news for the Kings, it is worse news for Rudy Gay himself — trying to drive out of the right corner Wednesday night Rudy Gay tore his left Achilles tendon (something the team announced, although it needs to be confirmed by an MRI Thursday).

Gay is done for this season and likely the start of the next one.

In the short term, that is a blow to the Kings’ playoff chances. Technically they are just 1.5 games out of the eight seed after Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers, but the Kings have been outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions this season when Gay is on the bench, and now he is on the bench for the season. He has scored 18.7 points per game, which was second-best on the team, and now that role falls to Matt Barnes and Omri Casspi (once Casspi returns from his calf injury in a couple of weeks). Those two are a drop off from what Gay brought to the Kings, don’t be surprised if Sacramento tries to add a scorer at the trade deadline.

It also changes the trade deadline. Gay was clear he wanted out of Sacramento and said he planned to opt out of the $14.3 million final year of his contract to be a free agent next summer, which made him someone on the trade block teams were calling about (although the Kings being in the playoff hunt impacted what the Kings might do). Now obviously that is off the table, and the question becomes will Gay even opt out?

Kings’ Rudy Gay suffers apparent torn left Achilles tendon, would be done for season

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This not only changes the Kings dreams of making the playoffs in the West, it also alters the trade deadline and free agency.

Rudy Gay, the Kings wing and second-leading scorer, has been diagnosed with a torn left Achilles tendon, according to the team. During the third quarter of Wednesday night’s game against the Pacers, Gay drove out of the right corner and, untouched, fell to the floor hard. He had to be helped off the court by teammates.

Team doctors made the initial torn Achilles diagnosis, which will need to be confirmed by an MRI scheduled for Thursday. He would be out not only for this season but likely the start of the next one as well.

Without Gay, a lot more will fall on Matt Barnes and, once he returns from his calf injury in a couple of weeks, Omri Casspi. Those two are a drop off from what Gay brought to the Kings — this season the team gets outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions when he is off the court — and with that team’s playoff chances have taken a hit (they are 1.5 games out of the eight seed after Wednesday’s loss to the Pacers). Don’t be surprised if the Kings look to add a scorer at the trade deadline.

Gay was not happy in Sacramento and said he planned to opt out of the $14.3 million final year of his contract to be a free agent next summer, which made him someone potentially traded before the deadline (although the Kings being in the playoff hunt impacted that). Gay averaged 18.7 points and 6.4 rebounds a game for the Kings, and while his game was a little old school — more isolation and midrange shots than teams prefer — he put up points. Enough that he was drawing trade interest heading toward the deadline from Oklahoma City and other squads.

That is all off the table now. At age 30, if Gay does still opt out of his contract for next season this will impact what he would make on the free market.

Zaza Pachulia lays out Russell Westbrook, stands over him (video)

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Kevin Durant playing the Thunder invites extra emotions.

Russell Westbrook felt them – in the form of a flagrant foul by Warriors center Zaza Pachulia, who stood over Westbrook for emphasis.

Pachulia is really embracing his role doing the dirty work for star-studded Golden State.

Report: 76ers’ Ben Simmons sitting entire season still on table

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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That rumor No. 1 pick Ben Simmons won’t play this season?

It just won’t die.

Even after Simmons tried to quash it, even after the 76ers’ CEO outright denied it, even after Simmons returned to practice, even in an otherwise optimistic report.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

76ers rookie forward Ben Simmons could make his much-anticipated NBA debut shortly after the All-Star break, league sources told ESPN.

Barring a setback in his recovery, sources say the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft has a chance to take the hardwood near March. There still remains the possibility Simmons sits the entire season, sources said, but his situation will continue to be thoroughly evaluated throughout his comeback quest.

76ers coach Brett Brown said there’s “no chance” Simmons plays in Philadelphia’s nationally televised game against the Rockets next week. Other than that, there isn’t much clarity.

It mostly sounds as if Simmons is still too far from returning to say something definitive.