5 Factors That Will Decide Brooklyn Nets' Postseason Ceiling

Thomas Duffy@@TJDhoopsFeatured ColumnistMarch 28, 2014

5 Factors That Will Decide Brooklyn Nets' Postseason Ceiling

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    Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sport

    The Brooklyn Nets are a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference. This much we know.

    What we don’t know is just how deep this gritty bunch of veterans can venture into the postseason.

    After a bank-breaking blockbuster of a summer, Brooklyn got smacked around early in the year. But then, despite an onslaught of injuries to key players like Brook Lopez, the Nets started clicking.

    Since the All-Star break, BKN owns the best record in the East. Much of the team’s success can be attributed to Jason Kidd, a man who went from scapegoat to hero in a matter of months as he came into his own on the sidelines.

    Brooklyn has established itself as a tough, tenacious and well-rounded team that’s going to be a difficult out for anyone, including the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers.

    But nothing is set in stone. A multitude of factors will determine whether the Nets get bounced in the early rounds or make it as far as the conference finals and beyond.

    All stats and information are accurate as of March 27, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

5. Overall Health

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    Matt York/Associated Press

    Fractured feet, broken wrists, sprained ankles, back spasms—Brooklyn has been through it all.

    Every contributing player on the Nets that’s not named Joe Johnson has been hurt at some point this season. Lopez, arguably the team’s best offensive weapon, has been sidelined since December 20 and won’t be back until next year.

    It’s been a plague—at least in the health department—for the Nets this year, especially in the season’s opening months.

    Fast-forward to the team's current situation, and Kevin Garnett (back spasms), Andrei Kirilenko (ankle) and Marcus Thornton (bruised back) are hobbled.

    Come playoff time, the Nets are going to need a roster that reflects a picture of perfect health.

    Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Johnson and KG need to be free of all limps, bruises and soreness heading into the postseason.

    Sure, the Nets have been able to manage without each of the above players throughout the year. But in the playoffs, there is no time to get used to a particular guy’s absence.

    Every game is precious, and any type of serious injury to a key player could definitely send Brooklyn home early.

4. Momentum

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    Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

    The Nets have proven to be a pretty streaky team, which can serve as either a blessing or a curse.

    Brooklyn has put together five separate streaks of three or more consecutive wins, but the team also has rattled off four different strings of three or more losses in a row.

    Regardless of the team's state at a given point, no one in that locker room lacks for confidence.

    A team with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will never head into a game expecting to lose. Put those guys on the Washington Generals and the Harlem Globetrotters would beg for mercy.

    In early March, D-Will told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News that the Nets fear no one.

    “We're a team built for the playoffs,” he said. “I feel like once we get there, we have a chance against anybody in a 7 game series."

    Andray Blatche recently echoed his point guard’s sentiments, per Bondy:

    To me, personally, I feel like it doesn’t even matter (who we play). I feel like we can beat any team right now in a 7-game series. Right now, honestly, I think we’re playing the best basketball right now in the Eastern Conference as of lately. Our defense has been on point -- other than (an overtime loss to the Pelicans on March 24), when we had a (22-point) lead and we let it slip.

    Despite their immense outward confidence, the Nets need momentum in order to make a deep run in the playoffs.

    If the opposing team is able to capture the first few games of the series, it’s going to take a lot for Brooklyn to climb out of the hole. But if they string together a few wins, their opponent is in deep trouble.

3. Kevin Garnett's Back

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    Kathy Willens/Associated Press

    Think about the big men that the Nets could potentially encounter on a postseason gauntlet through the East: Jonas Valanciunas, Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, Chris Bosh, David West and Roy Hibbert.

    Can an inexperienced rookie in Mason Plumlee handle those guys?

    Let's just say that despite Plumlee's toughness, Brooklyn needs a healthy KG. Desperately.

    The Big Ticket hasn’t played since February 27, missing 14 straight games along the way due to a bad back.

    At 37 years old, Garnett wasn’t expected to last the entire season. But with the playoffs quickly approaching, the Nets are hopeful that they’ll have one of their biggest leaders and best defenders back in time.

    According to RotoGrinders, Brooklyn has given up more than 20 points a game to opposing centers over the course of their last 15 contests.

    If that doesn’t alarm you, consider this: In two games during KG’s absence, Al Jefferson of the Charlotte Bobcats hit Brooklyn for 53 points and 27 rebounds.

    On March 20, Tim Bontemps of the New York Post reported that there is no timetable for Garnett’s return, but he added that the veteran big man hopes to return “soon”:

    Very [frustrating]. But [this injury] is a world in which I haven’t been a part of. I’d like to think that I’ve been known for my strong back and shoulders, but it is what it is. I’m just trying to be a student of all of it, but at the same time being smart with everything, too.

    The Nets, who’ve gone 10-4 without KG, can finish the regular season without their best big man. But come playoff time, he needs to be in that lineup.

    Otherwise, Brooklyn will get eaten alive.

2. Seeding and Matchups

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    Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

    The NBA is all about matchups.

    With the regular season winding down, it’s looking more and more likely that Brooklyn will play either the Chicago Bulls or Toronto Raptors in the opening round.

    Toronto’s Terrence Ross had some questionable comments about Brooklyn during a recent web chat in which he answered questions from fans. When asked who his ideal first-round opponent would be, Ross responded candidly: “I want Brooklyn, personally. For development, I’m working on the pick-and-roll.”

    When asked who the league's best screen-setter is, Ross pointed to Garnett. “He sets illegal screens and never gets caught.” (C’mon, Nets fans, you know he’s right about that one.)

    Blatche's response upon hearing Ross's comments, per Bondy, was priceless:

    S---, you better be careful what tree you bark up. He better be careful. He’s probably just saying that because he had a good game against us. But I don’t think that’s really what he meant or what he really, really wants.

    If Brooklyn is able to get past the first round, which would be no easy task given their expected opponents, they’d be en route to play the Heat.

    Although this may come as a surprise to some, the Nets are actually better off against Miami than Indiana. BKN has gone 3-0 against LeBron James and Co. this season but have dropped all four games against the Pacers.

    Indiana’s size presents a problem for the Lopez-less Nets, while the Heat are smaller and built more similarly to Brooklyn.

    The ideal road to the ECF for the Nets is to play the Raptors and then the Heat. They won’t be favored against Miami, but they’ve definitely got a fighting chance.

1. Kidd's Ability to Adjust

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    Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

    Feel free to blame Jason Kidd for Brooklyn’s slow start. You’d have every right to do so, given that the rookie coach’s team began the year 10-21.

    However, you’ve also got to give J-Kidd his due for his role in the Nets’ turnaround.

    The 2013-14 campaign has been a tale of two halves—while Brooklyn was painful to watch initially, they’ve looked like the team that they were supposed to be in the second half of the season.

    The point? It took Kidd some time to figure everything out. And he did a great job of doing so, really maximizing the talent of every player on the roster.

    But Kidd’s ability to adjust to postseason coaching, an entirely different animal than the regular season, could make or break Brooklyn’s 2014 campaign.

    It’s not just about beating an opponent. It’s about beating them in a series. Exploiting matchups, managing minutes, mixing up game plans and a million other things all fall under the duties of coach.

    Kidd’s going to have to do it on the fly.

    It’s going to take a cumulative effort from the Nets in order to make some noise this postseason. But the reins, just as they have been all year, will rest in the hands of the head coach.