By Jason Schott – BrooklynFans.com Reporter / Assignment Editor - @JESchott19
The Brooklyn Nets are in the playoffs in their inaugural season as the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. They will be taking on the Chicago Bulls, with Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, in what could be a classic series.
SERIES SCHEDULE (Nets have home court):
GAME 1: at BKN – Saturday, April 20th at 8:00 pm ESPN
GAME 2: at BKN – Monday, April 22nd at 8:00 pm TNT
GAME 3: at CHI – Thursday, April 25th at 8:30 pm NBA TV
GAME 4: at CHI – Saturday, April 27th at 2:00 pm- TNT
GAME 5: at BKN – Monday April 29th time and network TBD
GAME 6: at CHI – Thursday, May 2nd time and network TBD
GAME 7: at BKN – Saturday, May 4th time and network TBD
SEASON SERIES: Chicago won three of four games against the Nets. On December 15th in Chicago, the Bulls beat the Nets 83-82 in a game the Nets led most of the way. The Nets beat the Bulls in Brooklyn 93-89 on February 1st in Brooklyn. On March 2nd, the Bulls beat the Nets 96-85. In Brooklyn on April 4th, the Bulls won 92-90 in a game that went to the wire.
KEYS FOR THE NETS:
Brook Lopez will be making the first playoff appearance of his five-year career. He has been the Nets’ most consistent performer, which earned him a spot on the All-Star team. He averaged 19.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.
The Bulls, specifically Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, and Nazr Mohammed, will look to keep Lopez in check by keeping him out of the paint. In their game on April 4th, Lopez scored most of his 28 points early, taking advantage of Noah’s absense. By the end, Mohammed forced him into taking baseline jumpers, and he missed one in the final seconds that would have tied the game.
Deron Williams has looked like the best point guard in the NBA in the second half of the season. Williams averaged 18.9 points and 7.7 assists per game this season. Those numbers were bolstered in March, when he averaged 21.9 points and 7.7 assists; and in April, when he averaged 24.6 points and 8.4 assists.
After the All-Star Break, he scored 30 points or more eight times. One of those performances was when he had 42 points against the Wizards on March 8th, when he had 11 three-pointers.
Williams had treatments on his ankles in mid-February and lost some weight, giving him an explosiveness that few point guards have. This has allowed the Nets’ offense to be a lot more up-tempo and allow Joe Johnson to get more open looks.
Joe Johnson had an interesting first year in Brooklyn, as he was the most clutch player on the team, with numerous game-winning shots, but his numbers were down from his career averages.
Johnson averaged 16.3 points per game, down narrowly from his career average of 17.6. He has turned it on lately, with 20 points at Boston on April 10th, followed by 24 in Indiana on the 12th, both of which were Nets wins.
He battled injuries down the stretch to his heel and quad, but by being rested for six games in the final month, he is as healthy as ever.
Gerald Wallace has had a disappointing season in Brooklyn, but is as key as anybody to the Nets’ fortunes in the playoffs. Wallace averaged 7.7 points on 39 percent field-goal percentage, and 4.6 rebounds this season. Wallace is best in an up-tempo offense in which he can go for a fast-break layup. Most times this season, he has been set up on the three-point line, and can’t hit many shots from there. He can set up on the perimeter, but has got to find a way to get inside and, if he can’t get a shot off, pass it to the open man.
Reggie Evans has been the biggest surprise for the Nets this season, as he took his spot in the starting lineup in late December. Evans is a rebounding machine, arguably the Dennis Rodman of this era.
He averaged 11.1 rebounds this season, and nine games with 20 or more rebounds this season. The Nets were 8-1 when Evans snatched 20+ rebounds.
Evans’ offense was a problem, as he was reluctant to shoot the ball for most of the season. That changed down the stretch, as he had four double-doubles down the stretch, including a 22-point, 26-rebound performance in Portland on March 27th. He only had four double-doubles in the first 69 games of the season.
If the Nets can expect 7-10 points and 15-20 rebounds from Evans, the Bulls will have a hard time.
The bench has carried the Nets at times this season, and that was espcially true in their one win against Chicago on February 1st. In that game, MarShon Brooks had 13 points, and Andray Blatche had 11, with most of those coming in the fourth quarter.
If the second unit of Blatche, Brooks, Keith Bogans, C.J. Watson, and Mirza Teletovic or Kris Humphries can be as strong as in the regular season, they will be hard to beat.
Interestingly, Nets Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo said of Humphries on Monday night, “We need Hump. We’re not going to be successful in the playoffs unless we get the Kris Humphries that we know and if he can give us the defense, the offense and the boards, the whole thing. It was a big step for him. The more time we can get him in, the more sccess he has, the better it’s going to be.”
Jerry Stackhouse has also been worked into the rotation near the end of the season and performed well. He scored seven points in 22 minutes in Boston on April 10th, followed by 13 in 24 minutes in Indiana two nights later.
He can be to the Nets what P.J. Brown was to the 2008 Celtics, aveteran off the bench that can be their secret weapon.