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.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.