PBT First-Round Playoff Previews: Brooklyn Nets vs. Atlanta Hawks

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SEASON RECORDS

Nets: 38-44 (8th place in Eastern Conference)
Hawks: 60-22 (1st place in Eastern Conference)
Atlanta won the regular season series 4-0.

KEY INJURIES

Hawks: Atlanta’s Thabo Sefolosha is out for the season with a leg fracture suffered during an incident with police.

Though he only averaged 18.8 minutes per contest and recently missed 23 games with a calf injury, his defensive presence was of immense help to the bench unit, and the team suffered there in his absence.

Nets: There’s an outside chance that Mirza Teletovic may be back, after being ruled out for the season back in January. The team announced he has been cleared to resume basketball-related activities, and he practiced on Friday. But he will be continued to be listed as OUT for now. Alan Anderson, who missed the last seven games with an ankle injury, also practiced.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS

Nets: 101.9 points scored per 100 possessions (18th in NBA); 105.0 points allowed per 100 possessions (24th in NBA).
Hawks: 106.2 points scored per 100 possessions (T-6th in NBA); 100.7 points allowed per 100 possessions (7th in NBA).

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

Can the Hawks regain their early-season dominance: Atlanta crushed all comers in the first half of the season, rattling off a 19-game winning streak at one point, and winning 40 of their first 48 games — outpacing even the Warriors in the process. But the second half of the season wasn’t as easy. Sefolosha missed a total of 30 games, and the Hawks went just 17-13 in those contests. Whether it was due to losing their key defensive reserve, coasting to the regular season finish line, or no longer being able to surprise the opposition, Atlanta needs to find a way to get back to playing the elite level of basketball the team showcased for much of the season, and if they can, the Nets won’t be the only team that will have a ton of trouble in stopping them.

Nets must keep games close: In three of the four losses to the Hawks this season, Brooklyn was blown out by 17, 11 and 32 points. They lost the final one by just three, but Paul Millsap didn’t play, and the Nets entered the fourth period trailing by 12 points. (And, that was the day after the aforementioned police incident, so Sefolosha and Pero Antic didn’t play, either.) Brooklyn’s best chance to hang is to make the open shots when they come (which hasn’t happened lately), and to stay at home defensively, because they’re not athletic enough from a team-wide standpoint to help and recover before the Hawks zip the ball around to find the open shooters. The Nets can’t let huge deficits become the norm in this series, because they simply don’t have the offensive firepower to get out in transition and answer with huge runs of their own. Stay close and, well, at least there’s a chance.

Don’t leave Kyle Korver: In the four games between the teams during the regular season Korver is shooting 61.9 percent from three-point distance. The Nets can’t leave him to double-team someone else, and they shouldn’t send help, either, because that’s when the Hawks’ offense is at its best.

PREDICTION

We saw what the Nets look like when a team uses expert dribble penetration to set up its offense, and moves the ball well to create open shots. The Bulls shredded Brooklyn by doing exactly that just a few days ago, and the Hawks have shown that they can employ that strategy even better, and have done so consistently on a season-long basis. The Nets don’t have any advantages over this Hawks team, and Lionel Hollins knows it. I trust that he knows his team better than I do.

Hawks sweep it in 4 games.