Nets will have Competition for Final Playoff Spot


Apr 15, 2015; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Joe Johnson (7) drives past Orlando Magic forward Aaron Gordon (00) during the third quarter at Barclays Center. Brooklyn Nets won 101-88. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets will likely be fighting for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot with many teams looking for a chance to prove they’ve improved after missing the playoffs last season.  The Miami Heat, if healthy, will likely vault themselves into the upper half of the playoff picture, leaving one spot open.  Along with division competition Boston, Brooklyn will face a challenge from the Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons, and Indiana Pacers all of whom will look different in some way than they did last season.  With each of those teams competing with Brooklyn, the matchups with the three teams during the season will be highly scrutinized.

The Magic will go into this season with a new coach in Scott Skiles and a new defensive mindset.  Skiles will bring a toughness that Orlando was missing last years, and the Magic players are reportedly absorbing every ounce of it during the offseason.  Last year’s first round pick, Aaron Gordon has shown marked improvement from last year, and they’ve also added prolific Croatian scorer Mario Hezonja via the draft.  With so many young, athletic players on the roster, the Nets will have to keep Orlando in front of them and limit the fast-break.  The key for Brooklyn will be the matchup between Thaddeus Young and Gordon.  After averaging 21.7 points, 11.7 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 1.6 blocks per game and shooting 50 percent from the field at Summer League, Gordon will look to take that momentum into the season.  Yet he is still raw offensively, particularly when shooting off the dribble and on 10 to 15 foot jumpers.  If Young can force Gordon into the post on defense and force him out to the perimeter on offense, that could give the Nets an advantage on both ends of the floor.

The Pistons are looking to take the next step in their evolution. They’ve rebuilt their roster in three years surrounding Andre Drummond with a cast they believe can be competitive.  With Reggie Jackson in the fold for a full season, offseason addition Ersan Illyasova spreading the floor as a stretch forward, and 2015 draftee Stanley Johnson providing a defensive presence, Detroit has the making of a playoff team.  If Drummond can take another step towards averaging 20 points and 10 rebounds, they could present a challenge to any team on a nightly basis.  They key matchup for the Nets will be the battle between shooting guards Bojan Bogdanovic and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The versatile Bogdanovic will be tasked with greater responsibility on offense this season and could be given free reigns against inferior defensive players.  Caldwell-Pope tends to gamble on defense, leaving opponents with strong ball-handling skills open to drive to the rim.  That’s where Bogdanovic excels, and after shooting 35 percent from beyond the arc last season, Caldwell-Pope will have to choose between respecting his perimeter shooting or focusing on keeping Bogdanovic in front of him.

Apr 15, 2015; Memphis, TN, USA; Indiana Pacers forward David West (21) and guard C.J. Miles (0) help forward Paul George (13) during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum. Memphis Grizzlies beat Indiana Pacers 95-83 Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Pacers will be getting will be getting franchise player Paul George for a full season after he only played 6 games last year. After a horrific right leg injury, it’s questionable whether George will be able to return to form, but even at 85 percent, he’s a tremendous upgrade for an Indiana team that won 38 games last year, the same as the Nets.  If he can come close to the 21.7 points per game, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assist stat line from the 2013-2014 season, the Pacers will be a threat to surprise some teams.  Adding Monta Ellis to the backcourt will give George a Robin to his Batman as a secondary offensive option and draftees Myles Turner and Joseph Young will have the chance to offer immediate impact as rotation players.

The key matchup for Brooklyn will be between starting small forwards Joe Johnson and C.J. Miles.  Miles had a strong finish to the season, averaging 23.6 points in his last five games.  A career 41.6 percent shooter, he’ll get a starting opportunity with George preparing to shift to power forward.  With Johnson capable of bullying Miles in the post and Miles unlikely to continue the hot streak he ended the season on, Johnson could get the opportunity to take Miles off the dribble and drive into the paint, especially in a close game.

If the Celtics falter and take a step back, Brooklyn will have a chance to capitalize. They will, however, be competing with at least three teams who will all have an eye on taking the next step towards becoming a contender.  In order to come out on a top at season’s end, the Nets will have to exploit matchups and play their strengths against their opponents’ weaknesses.

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