In the last week of the regular season the Brooklyn Nets were cautiously optimistic about their chances of facing the Miami Heat in the playoffs. And winning. They swept the Heat in the regular season and it was the first time a Lebron James team was swept by a team in his own conference. But with five games in the books, the Nets have been competitive but hardly a threat. Tonight they stare down the barrel of a gun. Unlike the Indiana Pacers, the Miami Heat understand the gravity of an elimination game. Furthermore they do not take the veterans of the Nets lightly. Joe Johnson can score. Kevin Garnett can still rebound. Deron Williams is not the player he used to be but he is still effective, Mirza Teletovich causes problems on the perimeter. As does Marcus Thornton. Even with their inside/outside weapons the Nets have no clue had to solve the Lebron James puzzle. The Nets were beaten in game four because they collapsed in the paint to prevent his drive and Lebron found an unguarded Chris Bosh at the three point line. It is the essence of his greatness, the vision and decision making. The defending champions will take on a desperate Nets team tonight. But in the end too much Lebron, Wade, Ray Allen and Chris Bosh. Unlike the Pacers they won’t mail it in.
As dynamic as Damian Lillard was against the Houston Rockets hitting the clutch game winner to end the series, he has been equally terrible in the series against the Spurs. He is suffering from the Tony Parker illness. It causes flu like symptoms, missed coverages, helpless drives in the paint. Wes Matthews has the Tony Parker assignment. You might as well put 25 points by Parker’s name. Matthews is not quick enough. Lillard is, he is just not skilled enough as a defender and has yet to prove he is willing. The brilliance of Greg Popovich is in the small things. He put Tiago Splitter on LaMarcus Aldridge. LaMarcus who decimated the Rockets front line cannot get his shot off. His game is not inclusive of dribble, stop, head fake, rise up and shoot. The physicality of Splitter is impacting Aldridge’s ability to knock down his patented mid range jumper. The Blazers have very few options after Lillard and Aldridge. They have have the worst bench in the playoffs. They have the worse defense. So it comes down to the starters if they want to drag the series on. Their offense has to be efficient and relentless. Nic Batum has to have a big game, Lillard has to get to the line and make his threes and Aldridge has to find a way to shake Splitter and score. And even that will probably not be enough. The Spurs are the best ball movement team in the NBA. They were in the NBA Finals last year and understand how important rest is. The Clippers/Thunder series looks like it is going 7 games. That will give the Spurs nearly a week off. They know it and tonight they will play to end the Blazers season.