Nets-Heat: Takeaways

Game 5 of the preaseason is in the books.

Here are some of my observations and takeaways from tonight’s game.

Size vs Speed:

The most interesting thing that developed on the court tonight was a fascinating battle between the Nets size, and the Heat’s speed. That is definitely something to watch when these teams face off in the regular season, and perhaps in the playoffs. At times tonight, you could see the Nets struggle with the Heat’s speed. Lopez had a good game overall, but there were moments where you could see him struggling with Bosh’s quick feet and hands inside, and looking slightly rushed. On one play, LeBron pickpocketed Lopez and Lopez never saw him. Pierce and Johnson also struggled at times with Miami’s ultra quick wings, and the turnover count was high at 25.

But on the other hand, the Nets controlled much of tonight’s game with their size. The Nets controlled the rebounding battle, winning it 53-31, and owned the interior tonight. Lopez was tough for the Heat to handle, and Pierce and Johnson often got what they wanted when posting smaller wings. Livingston got in the act too getting rebounds from the point guard position.

Nets-Heat creates an interesting size matchup because the Nets may be the biggest team in the NBA, while the Heat rely on playing small, and fast.  And when the Heat truly rev their engine, their speed can be flummoxing, can force bigger teams like the Nets to rush, to have a hard time getting into its offense, and to turn the ball over. And often, what this results in for the Heat is the creation of mismatches, as bigger teams hoping to stay in stride with the Heat choose to play smaller.

And there lies a key for the Nets: they cannot fall into Miami’s trap and must play big against the Heat. Just ask Roy Hibbert and the Pacers what happens when you go small to put more speed on the court against Miami. The way to beat them is to pound them inside. Be the bigger team, win the battle on the glass, make a series physical . . . and hope you have enough juice offensively to turn that physicality into 4 wins. Noone has done it since LeBron’s epic 2011 meltdown, but the Pacers got close, the Spurs even closer. The Nets have the size, the talent, and the leadership to challenge the Heat. And to do it, they will have to do what they did tonight: go big, stay big, and be on the attack for 48 minutes.

This time, the Nets will not Let Miami Walk All Over Them: 

          Last year, the Nets heart was called into question in games against Miami, as the Nets were beat badly in each matchup with the champs. And each time, you never got the feeling the Nets believed, that they were in the fight. Sports are as mental as they are physical. The old saying goes “every battle is won before it is fought.” The Nets did not look like they believed they could beat Miami last year and that fed into their poor play against them.
          Not this time. The Nets were very much in the fight. Pierce shoving LeBron twice during the game was way bigger of a deal than just two guys that dislike each other, or an old small forward with a temper because he did not like what his younger counterpart had to say about his loyalty today.
          No, this was something more. This was a message to LeBron and his Heat: you will not waltz into Barclays Center this year and put the King in Kings County. You will have to work for everything: every basket, every rebound, every assist. Nothing will come easy, and the Nets are here for a fight.
          Pierce’s actions spoke volumes about the new culture and character of this Nets group. Last year’s group was not giving LeBron a shove unless it was down 20 points.

Ball Movement Is the Key:

The Nets ball movement looked pretty good tonight. I do not think it was quite as crisp as it was in some of the other preseason games, but it was still worlds better than last season. Also, any decrease in the offense’s motion is understandable, because Miami is by far the best defense the Nets have faced thus far (and one of the league’s best). Johnson had two open looks from the corner early on, something that did not happen enough last season. Lopez got multiple easy opportunities inside as a result of action around him. His ability to slice through the lane and find open spaces is uncanny, and when Pierce and Johnson attract attention that leads to opportunities for Lopez on the interior. Blatche benefitted as well, with a nice first half dunk as the recipient of a “bullet feed” (we missed Ian Eagle tonight) from Pierce.

On occasion, sets bogged down, but that was where the Nets talent took over. Johnson and Pierce both worked Chalmers for postup jumpers in the foul line area, and Anderson hit an otherworldy turnaround 3 over LeBron.  And that marks the difference between last year and this year. Last year, the Nets offense was uncreative. They mortgaged their season on the premise that Williams, Lopez, and Johnson could win their matchups, and put them into a ton of isolation sets. But in the playoffs, isolation sets become extremely predictable, and if a defense takes away the isolator’s drive, and his first read (ie: the corner 3, or a man cutting to the hoop), then the result often becomes a low percentage look. The idea is to move the ball, and use the talent on the floor to generate good looks. And then, when the sets bog down, use the isolation to bail yourself out and generate a shot. That is what the Nets did tonight, and with their talent those isolations become higher percentage looks than those of other teams.

Other Notes–Rotation Battles:

Kidd went with the Lopez-Blatche combo, again. And it worked, again. Blatche simply excels offensively as a 4. He enjoys playing on the perimeter and facing up before attacking, then looking to score or find teammates for open looks. That is easier to do as a 4 than as a 5. Blatche showed excellent synergy with Lopez and looked great tonight. Blatche struggled defensively last season at times at the 4, but is not exactly Garnett like at the 5, and with the way he has looked next to Lopez the Nets should turn to that combination often next season.

Plumlee looked great tonight. Finally, his hustle and rebounding translated into the box score, posting 8 points and 8 rebounds for the night. He put an imprint on the game with his defense and hustle, and as long as he does that he’ll carve out a niche in the NBA. And thankfully for him, this is not a lottery team where there is pressure to contribute right away. Plumlee is developing nicely, and will be able to develop comfortably on a team where there is no real urgency to thrust him into duty.

Teletovic really struggled tonight. He forced a few looks from the perimeter, and on one play his choice to dribble and take a wing three instead of a catch and shoot corner 3 showed a lack of confidence. Teletovic has good court sense and instincts, which is clear from when he plays in Europe and from glimpses of his Nets performances. But those instincts are not coming out enough during games, and he has to play better than he did tonight if he hopes to see the court. Meanwhile, Evans did not even see the court until the third quarter and did not have a discernible impact. Plumlee had a better night than either player.

And that goes to some interesting rotation battles going on. After the starting five, Kirilenko, Blatche, and Livingston have established places in the rotation. It also looks likely that Taylor and Shengelia will be on the pine or in the D-League, on the outside looking in. Most teams play 10 guys during the regular year, so that leaves Terry, Anderson, Teletovic, Evans, and Plumlee fighting for the final two spots in the rotation. Plumlee has shown flashes but is a good bet to see a lot of D-League action, and Kidd and Terry’s relationship indicates that Kidd will give Terry a meaningful chance to bounce back from a down season. That leaves few minutes for Anderson, though he will likely get some when pieces on the perimeter are out. That also leaves Evans and Teletovic in a fight for minutes up front. It will be interesting to see how Kidd juggles his rotation.

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