Mar 12, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Paul Pierce (left) reacts with teammate guard Deron Williams (right) during the first half against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

How Far Can Brooklyn Nets Really Go in Playoffs?

One of the early laughingstocks of the 2013-14 NBA season, the Brooklyn Nets now deserve our respect.

Sitting at 33-30 on the season, Brooklyn finds itself a lock for the playoffs in a pitiful Eastern Conference. The question is, how far can they go from there?

The Nets had a very forgettable 2013, starting the season just 10-21. Their roster, the most expensive in the league, looked very much overpaid and out-of-sync.

A new year meant a new beginning for Brooklyn, however. Since January 1, the Nets are 23-9 with wins over the Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.

Brooklyn currently holds the fifth seed in the East, but are just three games behind the Toronto Raptors for the No. 3 seed. Even with injuries to key players and a trade that sent Reggie Evans and Jason Terry to the Sacramento Kings, the Nets keep climbing in the standings.

Given their strong play the last few months, finishing as the third best team in the conference is entirely possible, no matter how ridiculous that would have sounded back in December. All of those veterans that Brooklyn acquired this offseason are finally discovering how to play together, and just at the right time, too.

When looking ahead to the playoffs, the Nets’ first-round matchup will likely be between the Chicago Bulls, Washington Wizards or Raptors depending on the final seeding. A series against the Wizards or Raptors would mean a clash of veterans vs. youth and experience vs. athleticism. Brooklyn recently knocked off the Raptors 101-97 on March 10 and face the Wizards on March 15. Given a best-of-7 series, the vets on the Nets should be able to pull out four wins.

If Chicago is the opponent, this could be a defensive struggle.

Since January 1, the Bulls and Nets are giving up the fewest (91.9) and fourth-fewest (95.3) points per game in the league, per NBA.com/stats. Brooklyn is just 1-2 against Chicago this season, but won their most recent matchup on March 3, 96-80. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson combined for 39 points while Brooklyn cruised to a 16-point win. If the Nets can pull ahead of the Bulls for the fourth seed (currently one and a half games back), getting home-court advantage would be huge in a potential playoff series rematch.

After the first round, Brooklyn would face a huge step up in competition. Both the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers should cruise into the Eastern semi-finals with ease.

Could Brooklyn take either of them down?

Well, if it’s against Indiana, probably not. The Nets have dropped all four games they’ve played against the Pacers this season. Meeting up with them in the playoffs would likely not end well for Brooklyn.

As odd as it may sound, the Nets should be hoping to face the Heat instead.

As ESPN pointed out after Brooklyn beat Miami 96-95 on Wednesday night, the Heat are 0-3 against the Nets this season and 44-15 when playing anyone else. Brooklyn wouldn’t be considered the favorite in a playoff series against Miami, but they’ve certainly handled them so far in the regular season.

The bottom line is, the Nets have transformed from a lottery team into a playoff force in just a few short months. With the way they’re currently playing, a playoff series win, or two, could be in their future.

Tags: Brooklyn Nets

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