The Nets have some fond memories of facing the Indiana Pacers last season, sweeping their season series 3-0. In their first matchup at the Barclays Center on January 13, the Nets ran their record to 8-1 under PJ Carlesimo in a game in which they struggled, but throttled the Pacers 28-11 in the fourth quarter to score a quality 97-86 victory. Then on February 11, the Nets beat the Pacers in Indiana, 89-84 in what was an extremely low scoring overtime game. The game was memorable because Tyshawn Taylor scored 12 points, ran the team extremely well, and played high quality defense, as Deron Williams sat out with an ankle injury with the Nets resting him before the all star break. Finally, on April 12, the Nets won 117-109 in Indiana once again behind an impressive 33 point, 14 assist performance from Williams.
Despite the sweep last season, however, the Pacers will be an extremely tough out for the Nets next season. In the line of teams in the east hoping to take down Miami, the Pacers have presented a compelling argument that they stand the strongest chance. In training camp, Jason Kidd has stressed a defense first mentality, and has stated that last year’s team was too “vanilla.” Our leader is absolutely right. The two stiffest challengers last season to the Heat in the east? The Bulls, who finished 5th in defensive efficiency, and even more so the Pacers who had the league’s top rated defense last season at 96.6. The Nets finished 18th at 103.6: that figure placed the Nets closer to the bottom (Charlotte at 108.9) than the top. Showing that defense wins come playoff time, the Bulls beat the Nets because the Nets could not get any stops, and the Pacers finished within a game of the NBA finals.
In short, when Kidd said the Nets defense needed to improve, when he said the team was vanilla? He was looking at a team like the Pacers, a team that showed that it can defend at a championship level, and with Roy Hibbert and David West in tow had the type of attitude a contender needs to have. The Pacers had something last season the Nets lacked, Kidd knew that, and he hopes to instill it.
While the Nets did not have the playoff success the Pacers had last season, they have all the ingredients to have it this season as a result of their offseason acquisitions. Kevin Garnett, Andrei Kirilenko, and Paul Pierce were brought in with eyes set on the playoffs. There is your attitude, and your improved personnel on the defensive end of the floor. Garnett and Kirilenko are elite defenders, while Brook Lopez developed on that end last season. Some of the parts, or “bones” as Garnett loves to say, are in place to build a top 5-10 defense in Brooklyn, and it will be exciting to see how the Nets evolve on the defensive end of the floor.
The Pacers, as the league’s top defense, are not a team the Nets will be able to beat by simply putting more talent on the floor. The Nets will need to scrap, and play elite defense to fight the Pacers off. Is that something they will be able to do? Here’s a look at the matchup.
The Nets’ Weaknesses Against the Pacers: Paul George and Roy Hibbert and the Pacers’ Size
One weapon that the Pacers have that the Nets will struggle to deal with: Paul George. George’s play improved throughout last season, reaching a climax in the playoffs where he showed flashes of superstardom. The Pacers love to get him on the move, running pin downs and screen and rolls to get him catching on the move to initiate offense. Chasing him around will be a lot to ask of an older group, and will necessitate the Nets to break up their starting five and lean on Kirilenko heavily to defend George. That in turn means that Kirilenko could see time against Indiana at the 3, meaning the Nets would be using a big lineup with Garnett at the 4 often against Indiana. The inability to go small would deprive the Nets of a weapon Miami had in the playoffs against Indiana: its ability to play small ball with incredible speed, and at an elite level, was a challenge for the slower Pacers to deal with.
The second challenge for the Nets against Indiana: the Pacers’ have elite size that will pose problems for them. In their head to head matchups, Lopez’s field goal percentage is nearly 5 points lower against Hibbert than it is for his career. Hibbert and West as anchors for Indiana make it extremely tough to score inside: a problem for any team because probing the paint is the most efficient way to get baskets. Even LeBron’s efficiency took a tumble when he shared the court with Hibbert. Hibbert is slow, and prefers to sag into the middle of the floor to protect the basket against the pick and roll attack, something that forces teams to take jump shots. His presence may effect Deron as well – Deron’s dramatic improvement last year in the second half was a byproduct of getting to the rim more: he was not getting to the rim when saddled with ankle issues. Deron at the rim means better shots for Deron, better looks created for teammates, and as a result, better offense. When the Nets play the Pacers, Deron will need to be able to attack the rim, Hibbert’s presence aside.
Why the Nets CAN Beat the Pacers This Season: Our Size, Indiana’s Lack of Quickness, and Indiana’s Post Led Offense
The Pacers are definitely an excellent team, but at the same time, a team the Nets have the potential to beat next season. For starters, Indiana’s primary strength is in its size. Indiana was able to push Miami because of its dominant play up front. The Pacers beat teams by bullying them, and using their defense and size advantage at most positions to control the glass, and the physical battle on court.
And that is precisely why the Nets match up well with the Pacers: their size. Hibbert and West are big, but the Nets have Lopez and Garnett up front, with Kirilenko and a deep bench behind them. As great as Miami is, they were beat up during their series with the
Pacers by the size mismatches Indiana presented, but Brooklyn has the ability to avoid those mismatches. In Lopez and Garnett, the Nets will have one of the biggest front lines in the league: one that can score, defend, pass, and deal with physicality on the interior. And in relief, Kirilenko provides incredible defense and the ability to play multiple
positions, Evans provides rebounding, and hopefully Teletovic adds a dimension from the 3 point line.
The other reason the Nets match up well with the Pacers: Indiana’s lack of quick, attacking guards. One significant weakness Indiana had last season was that outside of George Hill, nobody on its roster had the ability to handle the ball from the point guard position. The Pacers have added CJ Watson, who does serve as a tremendous upgrade over DJ Augustin, but the Nets still do have much more talent at point than Indiana does. One weakness the Nets figure to have this season is an inability to deal with small, quick guards that thrive on penetrating the defense, as the Nets extremely big both at point guard and every position alike. And while that makes them vulnerable against some teams, Indiana does not present that in a bigger guard in Hill, and a guard in Watson that thrives moreso on his 3 point shot than on probing the defense. In some ways, Watson is more of a two guard than a point guard in how he looks for his shot and his best asset is his 3 point shot, something that helps the Nets against Indiana. As Zach Lowe expertly described here, the Pacers are a “power-post team” that relies on pounding the ball inside offensively. With all of the Nets size, that is the type of offense they are best suited to contain, and with their age, it sure helps that the Pacers finished 25th in pace last season and don’t figure to play dramatically faster this year.
Overall, the Pacers most definitely pose a stiff challenge to the Nets, in their goal to go from 5th in the east last season to 1st this season. The Pacers took Miami 7 games, and in adding Watson, Luis Scola, and Chris Copeland, only got better. Also, the Pacers showed us last season that they are elite defensively and have the attitude needed to be the champion: while the Nets have brought in the pieces necessary to develop the same defensive mentality and swagger, they do need to prove that they can do it on the court. Potential and bones are just that: the Nets will need to turn that into a top 5-10 defense and given their finish at 18th, last season, they have a lot of work to do.
Neverthelessif the Nets can show newfound chops defensively and break into that top 10 – something I believe they will be able to do with this roster, they do have favorable matchups with Indiana that they will be able to exploit. With the pick and roll defenders the Nets have, and Lopez improving, the talent to build a strong defense is on hand. Indiana’s primary weapon is its reliance on its size across all five positions, which it uses to wear its opponents down. The Nets are a team that should be able to withstand their body blows, however, because they are big at every position. Kirilenko gives the Nets a piece to throw at George, with Pierce and others in relief. And Garnett and Kirilenko will help the Nets contain the Pacers’ pick and roll attack.
The Pacers are an incredibly formidable challenge. The Nets will have to prove that they can get to that level next season. But I think they have the tools to get there.