When Brook Lopez went down with a broken foot back in December, my thoughts of the Brooklyn Nets having any sort of serious championship hopes this season went right down with the big man.
But that was many moons ago, and the team has completely transformed itself into a group that should be feared at its very best. Have they improved to point of becoming the favorites to make it out of the East? Not quite, yet they do have a puncher’s chance of making it to the Finals.
However, more “ifs” will need to come to fruition for Brooklyn to reach the Finals than any of the elite teams that are presumed to be legitimate contenders.
The first one will be “if” they can consistently play the swarming, turnover-producing defense that has become their staple since the Jan. 1 evolution. It takes that sort of defense to make it deep into the playoffs.
There will then be the matter of “if” they can protect their homecourt better than any other team in the conference. From February until only the final few home games of the regular season, the Nets became literally unbeatable at Barclays Center.
Another one will be “if” coach Jason Kidd doesn’t try to get too cute. The smaller lineups that featured Paul Pierce at power forward proved to be extremely effective during the second half of the season, but Kidd shouldn’t venture into trying any new lineups. After examining his approach to the game, however, that shouldn’t be too much of a concern.
Finally, and probably the most important of them all, “if” Brooklyn can remain healthy throughout their run. This team resembles a well-oiled machine when all the pieces are clicking on all cylinders, but losing Deron Williams due to another ankle injury, Paul Pierce because of another stinger or Andrei Kirilenko as a result of previous back issues would be devastating for the Nets and would cost them severely.
That’s certainly a great deal that will need to go Brooklyn’s way during these playoffs, but if it does, they’ll have at least an outside shot of making it out of the East.