The common belief among NBA types is that in order to win a championship in this era, you’ll have to go through the Miami Heat. They’ve made the NBA Finals in the last three seasons, winning back-to-back championships in the last two. So do the Nets have a shot? Of course they do.
As we saw in last season’s playoffs, the Heat were tested: first by Indiana, then by San Antonio. Each took the defending champs to a deciding game seven and each came up just short. Each also took Miami to lengths in which the Heat hadn’t quite experienced before.
The Pacers were able to use their size, throw around Miami’s small-ball lineup, and protect the paint: a space were the Heat thrived during the regular season. San Antonio — without Indiana’s rim protectors — were able to employ another strategy, sagging off LeBron James and Dwyane Wade and making them jump shooters.
Though the Nets don’t have the athleticism that San Antonio and Indiana have on the wings, they do have the size. they can emulate the success the Pacers and Spurs had last season vs. Miami by using their size to protect the rim and physically dominate. Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett are two legitimate seven-footers with shot-blocking ability. The Nets also have a big starting lineup with Paul Pierce (6’7″), Joe Johnson (6’7″), and Deron Williams (6’3″), and their bench is just as big.
The Nets also hint at running a motion-style offense similar to the powerful San Antonio Spurs attack, instilled by head coach Jason Kidd and assistant John Welch.
Though both teams came up short, they may have just started to chip away at the strategy that could potentially dethrone the “big three” as NBA champions. But did these two teams simply pull these strategies out of thin air? No. They took bits and pieces from what the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks did two years ago, when they became the only team to beat Miami’s big 3 in a playoff series to date.
Though many naysayers are drawing comparisons between this year’s Nets team and last season’s bust-layden Lakers, how about a more positive comparison to those 2011 Mavericks?
As mentioned, those Mavericks were the only ones who have come up with the “formula” to beat Miami. As Jason Terry said back in July: “Jason Kidd and I are the only ones to crack that code.”
What comparisons can we draw between Kidd and Terry’s champion Mavericks team and this current Nets team?
To start, both were not the odds-on favorites to win the championship going into the season. Many NBA previews and preseason power rankings had the Mavericks in the 4-8 range in the NBA — similar to where many previews and power rankings have the Nets at this season.
As we know, the Nets have two key pieces from that Mavericks team: Jason Kidd — the head coach — and Jason Terry. Though many like to believe that it wasn’t necessarily the Mavericks strong play that won them the championship that season, but was moreso the complete unraveling of King James and his confidence.
For those who are stuck on that notion, take a look at Mark Cuban destroy Skip Bayless (big believer of said notion) on ESPN’s First Take a few years back:
There are other similarities between the two teams. The 2010-11 Mavericks had seven players with 10 or more years of NBA experience. The 2013-14 Nets have six. The Mavericks ranked 7th in offensive efficiency in the regular season and 1st (by far) during the playoffs. As I wrote a few weeks ago, the Nets have the offensive potential to be just as explosive — if not more explosive — than those Mavericks.
The Mavericks also had depth; they went a legitimate 9-10 players deep during the playoffs. If the Nets stay healthy, they’ll easily have the same depth. It remains to be seen if Kidd and company decide to play any zone defense (what the champion Mavericks did) against Miami this season considering they, like Dallas in 2011, lack athleticism. But if anyone can unpack the zone’s potential effectiveness, it’s Kidd, who saw it firsthand in Dallas’s banner year.
Though the Nets have completely rebuilt their roster and specifically engineered it for Miami, there are other teams in the East that they’ll likely have to get through. Chicago and Indiana are two more favorites among experts to dethrone Miami and advance to the Finals.
With such parity at the top of the Eastern Conference this season, the team who ultimately comes out of it will need a stroke of luck. With injuries and unknown factors (coaching, chemistry, etc.), it’s impossible to give a definitive answer to the title question.
But make no mistake: the Nets have a better chance this year at taking home the title than ever before.