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May 8, 2014 / Sports / The Brooklyn Nets / Back Court

Nets must dig into the trenches to advance

for The Brooklyn Paper
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The Nets playoff series against the Heat is the culmination of three years of work by Brooklyn general manager Billy King aimed at dethroning Miami’s juggernaut.

But it all may be for naught if the Nets can’t compete in the paint.

First, some background. At the beginning of last season, King said he had built Brooklyn’s squad with the Heat in mind. Where Miami lacked an elite point guard, King traded for Deron Williams; where Miami lacked a true center, King signed Brook Lopez to a four-year extension.

Brooklyn was then trounced in all three matchups against Miami last year. Rather than sit around with egg on his face, King doubled down. With a Russian oligarch writing the checks and demanding a championship at any cost, King went out and bought up Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, two playoff vets whose desire to beat LeBron and Co. has been hardened by multiple postseason clashes. This season, the Nets beat the Heat in all four regular season contests.

As Brooklyn quickly learned on Tuesday, however, the Heat in the postseason are a different beast. Pierce and Garnett know this well, as they watched their ex-Boston teammate Ray Allen step up in Game One with 19 points, tying his third-highest scoring night of the season.

But more than Allen’s sharpshooting, the most concerning part of Game One was how thoroughly the Heat dominated the paint, where they out-scored Brooklyn 52–28.

There’s some irony here: after failing to counter the Heat’s small-ball system last season by assembling a more traditional lineup, Lopez’s season-ending injury in December forced the Nets to also go small during the second half of this season. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise — as a smaller unit, the Nets players found their rhythm and rattled off the Eastern Conference’s best record after the All-Star break.

Now, the Nets may finally be missing Lopez in King’s grand Heat-beating scheme. Part of the Heat’s postseason transformation includes an increased emphasis on winning the inside battle. The Nets’ three big guys — Garnett, Andray Blatche and Mason Plumlee — combined for only 6 points and 11 rebounds in Tuesday’s 21-point blowout.

During the previous six months, the outside shot-making ability of Nets like Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Williams may have been enough to slip by the Heat. But in the playoffs, teams must be able to compete near the basket, as well as on the perimeter. If Brooklyn is going to validate three years of roster maneuvers over these next few games, they must start making a statement in the trenches.

Matt Spolar is a nearly 6-foot-1 journalist with a middling high school basketball career who is sure the Nets win thanks to team’s top-tier guards.

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