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.

Celtics to retire Paul Pierce’s number after Cavaliers game in February

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The Celtics already said they’d retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34.

Now, we know when.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics announced today that they will retire Paul Pierce’s No. 34 after a mid-season game against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Sunday, Feb. 11

After? That’s apparently in response to a new rule that penalizes teams not ready to play after a 15-minute halftime. These ceremonies can drag on, and nobody wants to cut Pierce short. I wonder whether this will start a trend of number retirements coming after games.

DeMarcus Cousins on Confederate statues: ‘Take all them motherf—ers down’

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DeMarcus Cousins grew up in Alabama, played collegiately at Kentucky and now plays in New Orleans.

So, yeah, the Pelicans star has an opinion on Confederate statues.

Cousins, via TMZ:

“Take all them motherf*ckers down,” Cousins said … “Take ’em all down.”

These statues glorify people because they fought a war against the United States in the name of preserving the racist institution of slavery.

Not whom I want to honor, either.

Kevin Durant: Kyrie Irving-LeBron James situation ‘just a regular NBA problem’

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Kevin Durant knows something about star teammates not always getting along.

So, the Warriors forward is not freaking out about the disconnect between Kyrie Irving and LeBron James and Irving’s subsequent trade request.

Durant, via Chris Haynes of ESPN:

“It’s just a regular NBA problem, right? A lot of teams have gone through this before,” Durant told ESPN. “They’ll figure it out. That’s a great organization, a championship organization. They’ll figure it out.”

“It’s not the end of the world,” Durant said. “Both of those guys won a championship together. They love each other. If Kyrie wants to do something else, that’s on him. I’m sure whatever happens, it’ll work out for the best for both of them. But it’s just a normal NBA problem. It’s just two big stars that it’s happening to.”

Durant is definitely right in the larger sense. Teammates spat and requests trades more often than we realize. Remember, both Irving and the Cavaliers probably prefer this never became public.

But I’m not sure Cleveland will figure this out with the ease Durant suggests. David Griffin, who had proven so adept at putting out these fires, is gone. LeBron’s free agency looms. This could be extremely destructive to the Cavs.

The fact that this “regular NBA problem” became public only intensifies it – and raises it something greater.

Report: Heat signing Jordan Mickey

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Jordan Mickey – the No. 33 pick by the Celtics in 2015 – became the first second-round pick in memory to sign the year he was drafted and receive a higher initial salary than first-round picks.

He’s keeping the checks coming.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Mickey will be the Heat’s 16th player with a standard contract, though Matt Williams (unguaranteed) will likely be waived to meet the regular-season roster limit.

I’m not sure where Mickey fits on this team, which already has several bigs. Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo and Kelly Olynyk will likely play ahead of him. Miami also has A.J. Hammons (who might be just dead salary) and Udonis Haslem (who might provide nothing more than veteran leadership).

The Heat could just see Mickey as someone they can develop. At that point, how he fits into the current roster doesn’t really matter.

Mickey – 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan – is a mobile defender with nice timing for blocking shots inside. He even possesses a work-in-progress 3-pointer in his arsenal. There’s plenty for Miami to help mold.