Since the Brooklyn Nets decided to abandon a traditional starting lineup midway through the regular season by inserting Kevin Garnett at starting center, Paul Pierce at power forward and Joe Johnson at the small forward position, they have been one of the hottest teams coming into the 2014 NBA Playoffs. Johnson has been the Nets’ runaway leading scorer all season long, but he will have to contribute in a major way offensively if the Nets are looking to make this series competitive against the Miami Heat.
One of the biggest reasons for Johnson’s stellar numbers this season is his transition from guard to small forward. Throughout the regular season, Johnson averaged 15.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists. Throughout this postseason, with Johnson playing primarily at the small forward position, he has averaged 22 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.7 assists. What’s even more impressive is Johnson’s leap in shooting percentage. Johnson averaged 45 percent from the field throughout the regular season but is shooting a blistering 53 percent from the field throughout the first round.
Johnson was able to score with a relative ease against the Toronto Raptors throughout the first round, but his scoring onslaught was due in large part to being guarded by Raptors small forward Terrence Ross. Being guarded by LeBron James in the second round will be a completely different story. James is arguably one of the league’s best lock down defenders, and he will make it difficult for Johnson to score, with or without the ball. On the flip side of this, Johnson won’t be able to guard James one-on-one very well, so it will take a complete team defensive effort from the Nets to keep James from scoring 30-plus points and turning his individual matchup with Johnson into a lopsided affair.
Everyone knows what to expect from James in the playoffs. The true variable in this series is how well Johnson, the Nets’ leading scorer, will be able to perform with the one of the NBA’s best defenders in James breathing down his neck at every turn. What makes the Nets such a lethal team is how any player from their starting five can be a major contributor offensively, but being able to slow down or even shutdown one of the their best scorers in Johnson might be exactly what the defending champs need to take the Nets out of this series.