This season has borne out a hard truth about the Nets: they simply can’t compete with the Heat. So as the playoffs near, Brooklyn must to do whatever it takes to avoid playing Miami for as long as possible.
That includes what some might call “tanking,” albeit in moderation. The Nets entered Wednesday’s game against Cleveland as the fourth-best in the Eastern Conference standings — setting Brooklyn up for a second-round matchup against the Heat.
A string of smart losses over the last nine games could put Brooklyn below Chicago and Atlanta, and maybe even Boston. By falling to a sixth or seventh seed, the Nets would ensure they face someone other than Miami in the second round.
That means there’s more time for another team — maybe the very Bulls who ended the Heat’s 27-game winning streak — to knock out the defending champs before the Eastern Conference finals.
Yes, this strategy means the Nets would cede home-court advantage in the first round, but they have beaten both the Pacers and the Knicks — virtual locks for the second and third seeds — in Indianapolis and Manhattan.
The reality is the Nets have a better chance of winning a Game 7 on the road against the East’s also-rans than they do winning four games against Miami. Sometimes a team has to accept its limitations and give itself the best opportunity to succeed.
In three contests against the Heat this season, Brooklyn has lost by an average of 21 points. The games were not close. Nets general manager Billy King says he built this squad to beat the Heat, but he in fact assembled a conventional basketball team that is no match for Miami’s versatile style.
The health of the Nets’ backcourt gives them perfect cover to drop a few down the stretch. Deron Williams battled ankle issues all season until getting plasma therapy in February. Get him some rest, maybe a little more platelet-rich plasma. Same for Joe Johnson, who has been sidelined recently with quad and heel problems.
Call this approach defeatist, call it cowardly, but the Nets wouldn’t be the first NBA team to try to fail upward. And if it means a well-rested Brooklyn playing a few subway stops away in the first round — instead of trekking to Atlanta or Chicago — I’m sure this basketball-crazed city won’t mind.
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.