Nets begin their quest to upset Heat in Miami

Grant Halverson

Welcome to the second round. The Nets almost blew it late on Sunday afternoon, but held on to beat the Atlantic Division champion Toronto Raptors in Game Seven to win their first playoff series since the 2006-2007 season. Who's up next? Oh just the defending back-to-back NBA Champion Miami Heat. Nobody said this would be easy.

Nor did they say it would be friendly. The rivalry between Miami's Big Three --LeBron James in  particular-- and Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett is already on display.

"We thought when we played them in Boston, we thought we buried them," Dwyane Wade told reporters Monday. It's the playoffs!

The numbers

What have these teams been up to? Let's check it out:

2013-2014 playoffs

Brooklyn

Miami

Pace

91.14 92.52

Offensive Efficiency

108.3 109.8

Defensive Efficiency

104.5 99.6

Offensive Rebounding percentage

23 14

Turnover rate

13 11.3

Assist rate

15.5 17.7

Rebound rate

47.1 48.3

Free throw rate

39.2 34.2

Effective Field Goal percentage

50.6 53.9

Opponent Effective Field Goal percentage

48.6 50

After an injury plagued series against Chicago last year, Joe Johnson was healthy this time around and it showed. Johnson took advantage of the matchup against Demar DeRozan and averaged 21.6 points on 51.8 percent shooting from the field. It's no wonder he was the series MVP for Brooklyn. LeBron will get a chance to guard him, but I wouldn't be shocked to see Shane  Battier return to Miami's rotation. Battier fell out of the rotation near the end of the season and only played two minutes during the series against Charlotte. He's not the same defender he was in his better years, but can still do a good job in spurts. If Miami resorts to double teaming, the Nets three point shooters will make them regret it.

Deron Williams will have an easier (relatively speaking of course) matchup in this series. In the first round, he had his hands full with Toronto's Kyle Lowry for seven games. Mario Chalmers doesn't pose nearly as much trouble as Lowry, but he's still a good point guard. He's a capable defender that is a good three point shooter and unafraid of getting shots up, no matter the circumstance. Williams got knocked throughout the Raptors series for not being aggressive enough, but that shouldn't be the case here. He has the clear advantage over Chalmers and should look to attack at every turn.

Going into the season, I thought the Heat were the biggest obstacle facing the Nets' path to a championship. Seven months later, that still holds true.

We're through the resting portion of the schedule, so there won't be any restrictions placed on Dwyane Wade. Due to injuries and the resting plan, Wade played his fewest amount of games (54) since his injury plagued 2007-2008 season (51). The strategy didn't hurt and Wade his best season shooting the ball. He had a career high true shooting percentage of 58.8 and was extremely successful in the paint, making 64 percent of his attempts. Having Shaun Livingston, Alan Anderson will prove to be very beneficial as they have the length and quickness to keep up with Wade and force him into contested jumpers.

The matchup at Center is pretty intriguing. After playing the fewest amount of minutes in a game since 2010 (he exited the game on 12/29/10 against Detroit due to a calf injury and missed two weeks) in Game Five, Kevin Garnett logged 25+ minutes in Games Six and Seven and played very well. He hit some key shots in the fourth quarter in Game Six and collected only his fourth double-double as a Net in Game Seven. He'll still be on a minutes restriction, but he's started to play well at just the right time. Mason Plumlee fell out of the rotation in Games Six and Seven, but I wouldn't be shocked to see him rejoin the lineup as his speed and athleticism will work well against the Heat.

On the other side, Chris Bosh will create some trouble for Brooklyn. #BigshotBosh doesn't get the respect he deserves, but he's one of the best front court players in the league. Bosh doesn't work in the low post that much, but he doesn't need to because he is extremely successful in the high post. He's been one of the best shooting bugs in the Association since he entered the league over a decade ago (side note: we're starting to get old) and has worked to expand his range to include three pointers. His length and quickness come in handy on defense as he's able to switch onto perimeter players and hang in with them. He struggles against power big men like Al Jefferson in the low post, and that could bode well for Andray Blatche once he gets in the game. When Bosh goes to sit, Chris Andersen and Udonis Haslem will provide more physical play and better rebounding. Keep an eye on Bosh at the end of the game. He's been one of the most successful players in the NBA during games that are close late. We don't call him #BigshotBosh for nothing.

Ball control will take on an even greater emphasis than usual this series. These teams led the league in opponent's turnover rate in the regular season and are second and third in the playoffs. These teams aren't good on the glass so managing possessions will be crucial.

Bench play will play a major role in this series. For the Nets, Marcus Thornton had a great Game Seven and will get some minutes here. His ability to space the floor with his three point shooting will help to counteract Miami's aggressive, trapping defense. For the Heat, Ray Allen had a bad series against Charlotte, but is still an excellent shooter. James Jones didn't play for large portions of the year, but Heat coach Erik Spoelstra got him back into the rotation as the regular season drew to a close, and Jones rewarded Spo by making seven three pointers against Charlotte in Round One. Always be ready.

Player to watch: LeBron James

Even though he won't win League MVP, but LeBron is still the best player in the NBA. James had his usual excellent season, averaging around 27 points, seven rebounds and six assists a game while managing to increase his field goal percentage again. He kept it up against the Cats, averaging 30 points, eight rebounds, six assists in the sweep. During the regular season, James committed a career high in turnovers, so that's something that can work in Brooklyn's favor.

The Nets are gonna throw a bunch of different looks at James in an attempt to slow him down. Anderson figures to get the first shot at him and he'll try to keep him away from the basket. We'll also see Mirza Teletovic, Livingston, Andrei Kirilenko, Pierce and Johnson take turns guarding James. In the series roundtable, a bunch of us (myself included) discussed what the Nets could do to possibly stop LeBron. Dexter Henry chipped in with:

There is no way to stop LeBron James....you can only hope to contain him. What the Nets should do against Lebron is send various defenders at him. Andrei Kirlenko could be a very key defender in this series and Brooklyn has to use long athletic defenders against James in order to frustrate him. If the Nets can keep James out of the pain and turn him into a jump shooter then I will consider that a great job against the best player in the game defensively.

From the Vault

The last time the Nets played in the Conference Semifinals was in 2007. Who was waiting for them?


More reading: Hot Hot Hoops

TV Coverage

We're past the first round, so everything from here on out will be on national TV. The game starts at 7 PM Eastern time and will be on TNT. No word yet as to radio coverage, but due to the game starting early and the Yankees being out West (can't believe I had to type that), it should be airing on WFAN if you're following the game on radio.

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