Brooklyn Nets glad they can finally truly look ahead to the NBA Playoffs
After knowing they would be the No. 4 seed for four days, the Nets had to wait until just before their own game finished to find out their opponent for the first professional postseason game in Kings County since Game 7 of the 1956 World Series.
Prior to their season-closing win over Detroit, Nets interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said he was prepared for both possibilities, playing either Atlanta or Chicago, but said that he and most likely his players as well were just antsy for the postseason to start.
“I think (the players are) thinking about it, in particular their own individual matchups, but having said that, it’s still a couple days off and I think they’re anxious,” Carlesimo said. “I think if everybody could fast forward a couple days they’d do that. We like to have time to prepare and everything, but I think everybody would just as soon wish it were Saturday or Sunday right now.”
Alas, the Nets fate was sealed across town just minutes before their own game ended; the Knicks defeated Atlanta at Madison Square Garden, meaning it will be the Chicago Bulls – who themselves closed out the year win a win over Washington – coming to town to start the postseason on Saturday.
Chicago went 3-1 against the Nets in the regular season, and Carlesimo said that it will be a “hell of a matchup.” He also noted that Chicago is excellent on the defensive end of the floor, reiterating past praise for Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau in that department, and knows that offense will be at a premium come the weekend.
“Hopefully, we’re going to be able to score points; in playoff basketball, it is more difficult to score because you’re playing against better personnel, so you don’t have the mismatches you have more often in the regular season,” Carlesimo said.
Despite this being Brooklyn’s first playoff appearance in six years, Carlesimo certainly knows a lot about that playoff atmosphere; he was an assistant under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio from 2002-07, winning three NBA Championships with a grinding Spurs team that personified the previous statement – but this year, Carlesimo believes he has the right pieces to do the same.
“It’s the elite players day in and day out, but with Deron (Williams) scoring as he is, and if Joe (Johnson) is as healthy as we think he is and Brook (Lopez) plays well, that can be a real advantage for us if we’re able to score.”
As for his rotation, Carlesimo said that everyone from No. 1-15 could be in line for playing time, deferring to the matchups that come any given game.
“Clearly, some guys are going to be more important in one series than in the other, but still, you have to take advantage of it,” Carlesimo said. “Even the starters’ minutes, to an extent, will depend on how they play and what they do.”
That noted, Brook Lopez and Deron Williams will of course see copious minutes throughout the postseason, and Lopez himself is looking forward to what will be his first taste of playoff basketball.
“I’ve been very anxious, waiting for (the postseason) while fighting through these last few games, and now that it’s on the horizon I’m very excited for it,” Lopez said. “Everyone’s coming together and we’re gearing up for a great run.”
Lopez looks forward to matching up with the Bulls, who he called a “very physical, aggressive team.”
“It’s going to be a good one; I think despite the record, we’ve matched up well against them all year, and we’ve been right there and had opportunities,” Lopez said. “I think it could easily be 3-1 the other way. It’s going to be physical, but I think we’re ready for it.”
According to Williams, who will be returning to the playoffs for the first time since he and Bulls forward Carlos Boozer led the Jazz to the 2010 Western Conference semifinals, the postseason is one that begins with a tough but navigable road.
“It’s going to be a tough battle; (the Bulls) beat us three times, so we definitely have our work cut out for us,” Williams said. “Anything can happen in a seven-game series, so we’re ready for the challenge. … I think everybody is semi-healthy now, and we feel confident that when we are playing at our highest level we are tough to beat.”
Carlesimo, for one, wishes his team played Sunday instead of Saturday – saying “you always want the extra day, but it’s the same for (the Bulls) and they have to travel” – but he knows that the atmosphere inside Barclays Center will be even better than it has been for the first 41 dates.
“I’m sure it’ll be great; to me, the fans are getting louder and louder and hopefully that continues,” Carlesimo said. “Like with us, it’s going to be a new experience for the people in the building too, so that’s part of it. Our fans have been great, and the blackout and all the things the organization has been doing will make it a fantastic atmosphere. Like I’ve said all along, we have to give them a reason to be loud and make noise.”
Hopefully the Nets will do just that, but as Lopez said about the first season in Brooklyn overall, the crowd will certainly never give up on the team.
“(This year) has exceeded all my expectations, and I really have to attribute that most to the fan support,” Lopez said. “They’ve been with us through the highs and lows, the ups and downs, and I’m just so excited for that first playoff game this weekend.”
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