1.) What style of play do the Nets need to execute in order to be successful in the playoffs?
Net Income: The same style they have executed in 2014: the long ball -- active hands leading to turnovers and fast break points, Kidd making substitutions without agenda, team basketball and oh, those three point barrages.
Tom Lorenzo: I think the Nets need to continue to play their small/long ball system, keep the game at a comfortable pace, continue to make the Raptors work on defense in the half-court, and, yes, stretch the floor with their shooters to help open up the paint as much as possible. Basically, the Nets need to keep on keeping on, in their 2014 style of play and not worry about making major overhauls based on matchups. Adjustments? Sure. But I don't think they need to completely change from their long/small style of play.
Reed Wallach: The Nets need to slow the game down and not allow the Raptors to get out in transition; the Raptors rank fifth in the amount of times their offense is ran through transition, per Synergy. On defense, the Nets' ability to switch most screens will work out well considering Toronto uses a lot of screens. On offense they need to continue to get fine post ups and use their length to finish around the rim.
Anthony Puccio: With the Nets going up against the athletic Raptors in the first round, I think it's crucial that the Nets get back to their scrappy defensive play we saw in the second half of the season. With their high defensive intensity, it should definitely open up the door for the offensive attack as well. For some teams, it's acceptable to try to match the opposing team's pace, but the Nets should try to avoid a back and forth battle with Toronto. That's a battle they wouldn't win. Luckily, the Nets have showed all season their offense can be successful in a half-court set, rather than relying on fast break points to open up offense.
Brian Fleurantin: I think the Nets' style as it is will work out. They do have spells where the offense gets ISO heavy, but that hopefully (for them at least) won't be the case. I'd love to see them play an up tempo game, but that doesn't appear to be in the cards as both squads play slow.
Ghoti: This is pretty simple. The Nets are basically the same team they were in the first two months of the season in almost every way except one - defense. Starting on New Years Day, Kidd discovered the magic key that unlocked the team's potential. Their length - particularly at the guard and SF positions - allowed them to overcome the severe rebounding deficiencies that plagued them and forcing turnovers helped the offense just enough that it tipped the overall balance back into the Nets' favor. To win in the postseason, they need to take advantage of those size advantages on both ends. If any team figures out a way to negate that advantage and exploits Brooklyn's weaknesses on the boards and lack of size in the frontcourt, it will lead to a short postseason run once again.
GMJigga: The Nets struggled with injuries and incorporating new veterans into a configuration that finally set them off to be the hottest team in the East during portions of the 2014 year; why deviate from what works, and is comfortable? Getting Livingston back will do wonders, especially against an athletic Raptors team lead by young guards in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. I'd be interested to see if Plumlee eventually starts at Center if the Nets start 0-2, and bring in energy and rebounding to match the pace of the Raptors, and the rebounding of Jonas Valančiūnas. If the Nets limit their turnovers as they move the ball to open three point shooters, I expect any size discrepancies to be trivialized.
Dexter Henry: I think the Nets need to continue to employ the small ball that worked for them in 2014. They are going to have to be physical on the interior but look to push the ball at any opportunity they can in order to be successful. Players like Plumlee, Livingston and Thornton can all thrive getting easy scores in transition.
Larry Fleisher: The style that the Nets need to execute is pretty much what they’ve been doing in most of their victories and that is the inside-out perimeter game on offense and the active hands approach defensively. By that, they should be continuing to make sure the ball hits the paint at some point during a possession and then gets swung out to someone open along the perimeter when a high percentage look is not available. Defensively, the Nets would be best suited keeping those hands active in the high post or near the mid-court line. If they can do that, they can disrupt offense before it can even get set up either by deflections or steals that lead to easy transition baskets or trips to the foul line.
2.) Do you think not having home-court advantage throughout the playoffs will hurt the Nets chances?
NI: It's not easy, and it will hurt. But sometimes, it can be overcome. In 2002, Nets led the East, went into the best-of-5 first round and lost Game 1. The advantage was lost.
RW: It definitely won't help. I think that their veteran savvy can overcome the struggles of possibly playing game seven on the road, but it's hard for every team.
TL: Of course it will hurt, but that's common for any team that doesn't have home-court advantage. Winning a Game 7 on the road in the playoffs, especially the deeper you get in the playoffs, is really, really difficult to do. Looking ahead, just on paper, the Nets may have to win road games in Miami, Indiana and San Antonio to win the Title. I mean, wow. It's not impossible, but it definitely is going to hurt them.
AP: Any time your 16-24 on the road, sure you're going to worry about not having home-court advantage. But, if you want to look at this from an optimistic standpoint, the Nets are 8-8 on the road since the All-Star break.
BF: Nah, I don't see the lack of home court advantage hurting them. Don't get me wrong, it would've been great for them to have it, but the roster has more than enough experience so that it shouldn't matter.
G: Not really. If they are the better team, they should be able to find a way to win one road game per series.
GJ: Brooklyn's scoring margin in games at Toronto is a net -14, while at home they're +3. Against Miami, they're +10 at home, while +2 when playing away. While admitting that there are differences between playoff rotations and regular season rotations (and any confounding due to injuries), I interpret the available evidence as leaning "yes."
DH: I don't think home-court advantage matters much when it comes to a team like the Nets. They have so much veteran experience and guys who have won big games on the road before. Would it be nice to have? Absolutely but I think this team is aware of what they are and the challenges ahead of them. I truly do not believe there is a hostile environment that they are intimated to go into in the playoffs.
LF: If this was last year’s roster, it would. But this year’s team seems more apt at playing through the hostile environment on the road. The Nets did lose in Toronto in January but that was the second night of a back-to-back after a double overtime win over Miami. Their resume of road wins includes two in Miami, one in Toronto, one in Dallas, one in Memphis and one in Oklahoma City. Yes, they have the second-worst regular season road record among playoff teams but they split their last 26 road games.
NI: Who deserves or who will get playing time? KG had the highest rebounding average in the 2013 playoffs, 13 per game vs. the Knicks. He'll play. Plumlee as become a weapon. Blatche can deliver, but I think its KG and Plums. Considering Plums' NCAA experience and Blatche's lack of NBA playoff experience with Washington, you can argue Plumlee has more "big game" experience.
TL: The most playing time probably has to go to Mason Plumlee. I still think Kevin Garnett will play more minutes in the playoffs than he has in the regular season, but they're going to need Plumlee to put up big minutes. Especially in these early series -- against the Raptors and possibly the Heat. In a series against the Pacers and Spurs, if that happens, Garnett will need to play more minutes. Early on, though, I think its Plumlee.
RW: Garnett. He's done it before, and he is more than rested enough to give about 25 minutes a game at this point. Kidd said that he wants all three bigs to play during the postseason, but there might be an odd man out. I think that odd man out is Blatche. Plumlee has just as much big game experience from his four seasons at Duke than Blatche does in the league, and Plumlee's confidence is through the roof.
AP: Before the season started, I never would have thought this was a legitimate question. As we all know, Garnett has a ton of playoff experience in his pocket, especially how important his defensive leadership is. His 6 & 6 average might be misleading this season due to injuries and lack of rhythm. However, it depends on the situation. Of course if the Nets need some offense, Blatche is the guy to turn to. If the team looks slow and lackadaisical, Plumlee's the answer in most cases. It certainly helps having such an athletic big man such as Plumlee to run the floor with Deron Williams.
BF: This is a question I never thought I'd see at the beginning of the season. Of those three, I'd say Garnett. He doesn't need the ball in his hands to contribute like Blatche and has way more flexibility on offense when he does shoot, unlike Plumlee. I feel that Garnett would provide more options for the Nets, although I do wonder about his stamina. He only played past 30 minutes once this season (and even then, it took two overtimes) to get there. I completely understand and agree with the strategy management put in place, but I still have questions.
G: I hope Garnett was sitting all season for a reason. All three will get plenty of run, but if Garnett can be out there and effective in crunch time that would be the ideal scenario. These playoffs are the sole reason he was brought here and he needs to show it was the right decision.
GJ: Kevin Garnett was a revelation off the bench when he returned from injury, while as I mentioned above, I think Plumlee's shot blocking, rebounding, and athleticism makes him viable against the starting Raptors. If the last couple of weeks are any indication, Blatche looks to be the odd man out unless we go cold.
DH: I am going to say Kevin Garnett because of his experience and I think he is ready to go at this time of year. However, I do think Plumlee deserves significant minutes at the 5. His development throughout the regular season has been amazing and he is a player that has shown he knows his role and knows how to execute it well. I have been impressed most with his improvement on the defensive end and I think the Nets can benefit with him at the 5 when KG is not in the game.
LF: Garnett should get it based on playoff experience from deep runs with the Celtics and for the various things that don’t appear in the box score (calling out switches, setting screens, spotting plays). After that Plumlee should be the primary backup here. Though Plumlee’s shooting range isn’t quite as deft as Blatche’s ability in the mid-range game, he quickly gets to the basket and his nearly 120 dunks indicate an inside athleticism that counters what the Nets do from the outside.
4.) Who or what is the X-factor to winning the series? (from the Nets side)
NI: Three point shooting. They seem to have enough fire power to win, but if they hit a cold spell, it's going to be a big problem. On the other hand, if its bombs away and they go in, the game could change. If Johnson doesn't lead the Nets in scoring in the playoffs, I will be surprised.
TL: Deron Williams is always the x-factor. The team only goes as far as he takes them. Paul Pierce will give you 15-18 points, Joe Johnson will score in the same range, 15-18 points, but you need Williams to be "better." He needs to play like "second half" Williams, and he needs to shut down Kyle Lowry as much as possible. Lowry will give him fits, but Williams needs to, again, "be better."
RW: Paul Pierce. If Pierce continues to match up well with big power forwards then the Nets will roll through the Raptors. Amir Johnson is a versatile big who is a bruiser too. Pierce needs to contain him and keep him off the glass so the Nets can keep the long-ball lineup in tact.
AP: I hate to discredit anybody from the bench, but I think it's so important for Thornton to be consistent in the playoffs. He's had a lot of great games since coming to Brooklyn, but he's also had some questionable games filled with questionable decisions. If the Nets' shots aren't falling, it's key to have an asset like Thornton to heat up in the blink of an eye.
BF: I think Mirza Teletovic will be the X factor this series. They could've used him last playoff, but what's done is done. What he can do here is provide Brooklyn with good three point shooting as well as some size coming off the bench. He'll also be helpful when Patrick Patterson is in the game.
G: Shaun Livingston, Deron Williams, Andrei Kirilenko, Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce must win on defense, force a ton of turnovers and get timely offensive rebounds or the Nets have no prayer. Except when Pierce is at PF, they should all be matched up against smaller players and they all need to use that to provide enough extra possessions to make up for the Nets' weaknesses.
GJ: Stop me if you've heard this before: Deron Williams! He'll need to really look inside himself to slow down Lowry, and in 2 games played against the Raptors, he's been held to 13.5 points. Keep in mind, he's only started one game against them.
DH: The X-factor to winning the first round series against the Raptors and any series in the post-season is simply Deron Williams. He is being paid like a franchise player and it is time for him to step up and be that franchise player. He has a ton of talent around him but he has to be efficient and put everyone around him in positions to succeed. If he can dominate at his position at most nights in the East the Nets are going to be very tough to beat in the playoffs. I truly believe the Nets will only go as far as D-Will takes them.
LF: Joe Johnson. Last year, Johnson was dealing with plantar fasciitis in his left foot and it clearly had a negative impact. Johnson shot 2-of-14 in Game Seven and 41.3 percent (43-of-103) and 25.6 percent (10-of-39) from three-point range. The pain was so bad that Johnson referred to himself as a decoy, meaning he could only be a spot-up shooter. This year Johnson was the most consistent Net and that consistency needs to continue, especially since the Nets were 15-5 when he scored 20 or more points.
5.) What could be the Nets fatal weakness?
NI: Lack of offensive rebounding. I know Miami won without great rebounding but the Nets don't have LeBron to compensate. Plumlee's rebounding has improved a lot as of late and KG has looked good, but the overall stats point to this as their biggest flaw.
TL: I think speed and athleticism will hurt them the most. You look at the guards and wings the Raptors run out there -- Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Greivis Vasquez -- they have quickness and can get out in transition. The Nets will struggle with this, but not sure it will be fatal.
RW: Age. The Raptors have the ability to get out in transition and have the athleticism to overpower the Nets. The Nets need to play their game, not Toronto's.
AP: Poor three point shooting leading to offensive lapses. This entire season, we've seen the Nets either hit the three on a consistent basis and win the games, or take (and miss) too many three's. A lot of times they rely upon the three, and if it's not falling, their ball movement turns into a heavy-isolated offensive system. After last year, it's safe to say: Stay away from iso!
BF: I think lack of size could prove to be fatal here. If they aren't able to force turnovers at the rate they have been since January, it could create problems. I forget who tweeted the specific number, but Garnett and Plumlee haven't played well when they've played on the court together.
G: Rebounding. They did a great job conceding that they would lose that battle almost every night and focusing on minimizing the damage. In the playoffs, though, you are playing better teams the farther you go and it gets harder to hide your flaws. If the Nets lose, it will be because the opponent took care of the ball and got the rebounds leaving the Nets with a big possession deficit.
GJ: The general concern is injury, which has been their Achilles heel all season. While the Nets were playing great basketball in the second half the season, I'm slightly worried that they'll have to warm-up again to playing at full strength after taking the last couple of games off. Although, on the other hand, isn't that why a veteran ball club is oriented for the post season?
DH: The Nets fatal weakness could be their age/ ability to defend. The Nets are one of the oldest teams in the league and I could see younger/athletic teams (such as the Raptors) giving them problems at stretches in the playoffs. If the Nets consistently defend and make life tougher for teams with more athleticism on the perimeter then they will be in good shape if not they definitely will struggle.
LF: Struggles at the perimeter. The Nets finished this season 11th in 3-point shooting at 37 percent but you know the old saying live by the three and die by it. For the most part, the Nets have thrived but if they produce an ugly number, that could be difficult to overcome. They were 20-24 in games when they shot under 37 percent from 3-point range and in the four games against Toronto, they were 32-of-73 (43.8 percent) and that needs to continue.
NI: Nets in six.
TL: If we get "be better" Deron Williams, the Nets should win in 6 games. If we don't get "be better" Deron Williams, we're looking at a Game 7 coin flip.
RW: The elders over the upstarts. Nets in six.
AP: Nets in six. I think they steal game one in Toronto, but fail to capitalize in Brooklyn. Just because they were good at home, doesn't mean it's a sure victory. The Raptors were solid away from home with a 22-19 record, but ultimately the talent and depth of Brooklyn leads their path to the second round.
BF: Nets in seven.
G: Nets in six.
GJ: I can't overlook Deron's, well, "lack of participation" against the Raptors this season. I expect the Nets to win in 5.
DH: I think the Nets wanted the Raptors all along down the stretch of the season. I think they are aware the backcourt of Lowry and DeRozan can be very dangerous but are very confident about this matchup. Overall I like the depth of Brooklyn along with the experience/hunger of veterans like KG and Paul Pierce. I think that puts the Nets over the top and get out of the first round this season. Nets in six.
LF: This will be a long series and while the Raptors are a great story for the league, it seems that the Nets have endured too much early season struggles followed by the mostly great three-month stretch to bow out in the first round again. Nets in 7.