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Nets look to begin a magical run vs. Hawks

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"Welcome to Atlanta jackin' hammer & vogues..."
"Welcome to Atlanta jackin' hammer & vogues..."
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Do you believe in miracles?! Well I don't know about all of that but the Nets will certainly take it.

It took a second half comeback against the Orlando Magic, Bojan Bogdanovic having the best game of his NBA career, and the Memphis Grizzlies beating the Indiana Pacers (and clinching homecourt advantage in the first round against Portland for themselves) to get the Brooklyn Nets into the 2015 playoffs. It was a bumpy ride getting here, but the Nets have made the playoffs for the third consecutive season in Brooklyn. I know, I know #endconferences but we'll worry about that another day.

Waiting for the Brooklyn Nets will be the Eastern Conference's best team. The Atlanta Hawks had an incredible regular season and won a franchise record 60 games this year. Atlanta was a solid team before Al Horford's injury in 2013 and still managed to make the playoffs, but ultimately fell short in seven games to the Indiana Pacers. Going into the season, everyone expected the Hawks to be a good team, but nobody saw this coming. They struggled a bit down the stretch, but the team didn't have anything left to play for and experimented with some of their lineups. Their season is even more amazing when you take into account all of the drama surrounding the franchise. We'll get to that in a bit.

Where to follow the game

TNT and YES Network have you covered on television while WFAN 101.9 FM has got you on radio. Tip is after 5:30.

Injuries

Alan Anderson missed the last six games of the season due to an ankle injury. He's expected back. Mirza Teletovic has been cleared to participate in basketball activities. It's unlikely he returns to action in this game, but keep an eye out just in case.

Backup big man Mike Scott is questionable with a back injury. Thabo Sefolosha will miss the playoffs after fracturing his tibia. More on that in a minute.

Hand in hand

The NBA playoffs are the most enjoyable time of the year. Let's take a look at the games that are taking place on Sunday and the channels they'll be appearing on:

  • Boston at Cleveland - 3 PM on ABC
  • Portland at Memphis - 8 PM on TNT
  • San Antonio at Los Angeles - 10:30 PM on TNT

The game

What's the story? Let's get into it:

2014-2015 Season

Brooklyn Atlanta

Record

38-44 60-22

Pace

94.97 96.25

Offensive Efficiency

101.9 106.2

Defensive Efficiency

105 100.7

Turnover Rate

14.4 14.7

Assist Rate

16.4 19.7

Offensive Rebounding Rate

23.9 21.4

Rebounding Rate

48.9 48.2

Free Throw Rate

26.7 25.9

Effective Field Goal Percentage

49.1 52.7

Opponent's Effective Field Goal Percentage

50.6 49.2

And to be a bit more specific, here's how the teams did against each other:

2014-2015 Season

Brooklyn Atlanta

Record

0-4 4-0

Pace

96.64 96.64

Offensive Efficiency

99.8 118.3

Defensive Efficiency

118.3 99.8

Turnover Rate

16.2 12.5

Assist Rate

17.4 23.1

Offensive Rebounding Rate

25.3 21.5

Rebounding Rate

51 49

Free Throw Rate

23.7 28.4

Effective Field Goal Percentage

49 57.9

Opponent's Effective Field Goal Percentage

57.9 49

The regular season between these teams:

Game One

Game Two

Game Three

Game Four

There's a lot of stuff happening here, and we'll start with the most important one. I mentioned Sefolosha breaking his tibia earlier, and there's very good reason to believe it was a result of the NYPD.  Sefolosha came away from his arrest with a broken tibia and puts the blame directly on the NYPD. Dave Zirin speaks about the importance of this:

Now the ball is in Thabo Sefolosha’s hands. He is clearly preparing a lawsuit against the NYPD and if successful, good for him. As the head of an NAACP branch who asked his name to be withheld said to me, "The police are like any business. You sue. You take their money. You get the bureaucrats nervous and hopefully that means you change their behavior." This is a valid point. But we have also seen big-city police departments pay out millions with little to show for it in changed behavior. New York City alone has belched up half a billion dollars since 2009, to settle police brutality civil suits out of court. This payout did not save Eric Garner anymore than it spared Thabo Sefolosha. But if Thabo chooses to mount a public campaign and if NBA players choose to amplify it during the playoffs, then we could have something powerful on our hands that hastens the changes in policing whose necessity is made so desperately obvious with every felled black body. Whatever path Thabo Sefolosha selects may be a personal and business decision before it is a political one. But going public is the best way for Thabo to take the "great pain" he is in, and give some back.

The loss could hurt the Hawks. Sefolosha has the most playoff experience of anyone in this series, 78 games, three more than Joe Johnson.  Also, the Hawks were only 14-9 in 23 games he missed with a calf injury

We're not done yet with the off court business. Hawks General Manager Danny Ferry has been in hiding since September after taking a leave of absence following his comments about Luol Deng. The controversy was dissected from a variety of angles, and I'll shout out some of the writing on it: Jason Walker on the effect it had on Hawks fans at Peachtree Hoops, Shrill on white flight + racism in Atlanta for Vice Sports, Rembert Browne on Bruce Levenson at Grantland, and me on the lack of diversity in upper managements positions for Netsdaily.

Throughout the season, the threat of the Nets landing in the lottery and the pick going to Atlanta hung over Brooklyn's heads. That pick will still go to the Hawks, but it'll be the fifteenth pick in the Draft. Brooklyn will pick from the 29 and 43 positions.

Both of these teams are fighting history this series. The number eight seed has only beaten the one seed fivetimes in NBA history (the 1994 Denver Nuggets, 1999 New York Knicks, the 2007 Golden State Warriors, the 2011 Memphis Grizzlies and the 2012 Philadelphia 76ers). And in those instances, the eighth seed won games against their opponents in the regular season (Also, the Knicks beat Miami in 1998 and were close to beating them in 1997 even as their roster was racked with suspensions following the P.J. Brown-Charlie Ward fight in Game Five). The Hawks swept the Nets in the regular season and three of those games were blowouts. For Atlanta, they're fighting history that's specific to them. The Hawks haven't won a Championship since 1957, reached the Conference Finals since 1970, or played a Game Seven in the Conference Semifinals since 1988. This is the first time they've entered the postseason with the number one seed since 1994. That year, they beat the Miami Heat in the first round before losing to the Pacers in the Conference Semifinals.

Got all that? Now let's get to the on court stuff!

Thaddeus Young came over at the trading deadline in exchange for Kevin Garnett. Since he came over, Young has shot 38 percent from three point range and has helped provide much needed spacing for the Nets. Atlanta's Paul Millsap is similar in that respect. Ever since joining Atlanta at the start of the 2013-2014 season, Millsap has incorporated the three pointer into his arsenal. He's taken more three pointers this season (216) than he did throughout his seven years in Utah (117). He's also a solid rebounder and low post option for the Hawks as well. They're pretty similar to each other and serve as great complements to their All Star big men.

The Hawks have an advantage at the point guard position. Jeff Teague was named to his first All Star game this season and it's easy to see why.  Teague improved upon his shooting percentages from last season and was able to frequently attack the basket. For the Nets to pull off the upset, they need Deron Williams to play his best basketball as a member of the Nets. Going into the year, I felt that it was the most important of Williams' career, but injuries derailed him once again. He hasn't been scoring well over the past month, but he has managed to find good scoring opportunities. If you've followed the team throughout the season, you've heard critiques of Lionel Hollins and his insistence on playing Williams and Jarrett Jack together. They haven't worked well at all and was one of the worst on the club (ten points worse per 100 possessions). Hollins would be wise to avoid that pairing altogether. Defensively, the Nets are going to have to avoid sending help towards Teague and backup point guard Dennis Schroder when they drive. Why?

The Hawks are the second best passing team in the league (by assist rate) and do a great job of running their offense. All of the motion in their offense has created great looks and for someone like Kyle Korver, an open look from three point range is automatic. His three point percentage has increased for the fourth consecutive season and he shot 49.2 percent from deep, the second highest mark of his career. Markel Brown will draw the initial assignment and he will have to stay glued to Korver. Brown started to consistently get playing time following the All Star Break and usually gets assigned to the opponent's most dangerous offensive player. With the play of Bogdanovic, his minutes have been a bit spotty, but he should see a lot of time chasing Korver around. Brooklyn's defensive rotations will have to be very sharp as they can't afford to make miscues that will lead to easy baskets for the Hawks. Remember it was a mixup late guarding Korver that led to Brooklyn losing the last regular season game against Atlanta.

Player to watch: Al Horford

It was another banner season for the Hawks big man. Horford was named to his third All Star game and it was a well deserved honor. Horford averaged 15 points and seven rebounds on 53 percent shooting from the field in 76 games played. Big Al can score in the low post, out in the high post and works well in pick and roll situations. He's also a capable defender close to the basket, holding opponents to an above average 54.7 percent from the field inside of six feet. This is Horford's first playoff appearance since 2013. He missed last year's series against Indiana after tearing his right pectoral muscle in December 2013.

On the other side is Brook Lopez. Lopez picked his game up down the stretch, averaging 20.7 points and 9.1 rebounds while shooting 54.7 percent from the field and 80.8 percent from the free throw line in March and April. Earlier in the season, a majority of his offense came from the perimeter and away from the rim. Throughout the second half, his shot attempts have come closer to the rim and he has helped steady the Brooklyn offense. And like Horford, Lopez missed the playoffs last season due to an injury he suffered in December.

Although Lopez has been playing well of late, he and Mason Plumlee are at a disadvantage here. Horford can draw them away from the basket with his jump shot, which can open things up for the rest of his teammates. Pero Antic can take that one step further when he comes off the bench with his three point shot. Rebounding figures to come into play throughout this series. The Hawks are the fourth worst rebounding team in the league and Lopez is actually one of the better rebounders in traffic. If the Nets can avoid turnovers and control the glass, they might have a chance at pulling off the upset.

From the Vault

Joe Johnson has earned a reputation of being one of the better late game players in the league. Back in 2008, that was on full display in front of a pumped up Atlanta crowd.

More reading: Peachtree Hoops and SB Nation NBA