The NBA’s regular season ended last night, setting all 16 of the Eastern and Western Conference’s playoff matchups in stone. Seedings and first round opponents are all decided.
The Brooklyn Nets, the NBA team to see the most roster turnover this offseason, fell to the No. 6 seed in the East with a regular season-ending loss on Wednesday night in Cleveland against the Cavaliers. The defeat slated Brooklyn to play their division rival and Atlantic Division champion Toronto Raptors in the opening round of the playoffs. The two teams split their season series with two wins apiece.
Jason Kidd’s Nets are looking to avenge their embarrassing first round loss to Chicago in last year’s postseason, in which Brooklyn fell in seven games to Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls. That brutal failure, accentuated by a blown 14-point lead in Game 4, angered Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and the other Nets on the team last year. Now, with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Shaun Livingston, and others added to the mix, Brooklyn has the talent to overcome that loss and advance in the 2014 playoffs.
First off, the Nets would have to get through the Raptors, who they played relatively even throughout the season. However, the Nets have not been as healthy the whole year — excluding the very beginning of the season — as they are right now, so Toronto has the misfortune of playing Brooklyn at almost full strength, even though Brook Lopez is still out with a broken foot.
Even though the Raptors are the higher seed and have homecourt for this series, the Nets have been the East’s best team in 2014 so it would be a marginal upset if they were to lose. That means, if they were to advance, the Nets would most likely take on the two-time defending champion Miami Heat — who would have to beat the No. 7 seed Charlotte Bobcats — in the second round, resulting in a matchup that would not happen if the Nets won last night in Cleveland.
Brooklyn beat Miami in all four games the two teams played this season, with all four decided by either one or two points. If you were to just look at those finishes alone, it would make for an exciting playoff series with a Nets team that just matches up well against LeBron and Miami. However, once you add in the animosity between former Celtics Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce — who are on the Nets — and Ray Allen — a member of the Heat — then you get some more excitement.
Additionally, the long-running rivalry between Pierce, Garnett and LeBron has led to some extremely chippy play between the two teams, which has resulted in a bunch of technical fouls, a lot of foul outs, and some flagrants here and there. Transport that sort of action into the postseason, and a legendary series for the history books could transpire.
Sure, all of this does not happen if the Nets cannot get by the Raptors, but if they can, they certainly will challenge the Heat and could realistically beat them in a seven-game series that would produce some can’t-miss basketball. KG and Pierce may be on their way out of the NBA–with LeBron, Wade, and Bosh still firmly entrenched in it–but they want to leave with a bang, and taking down the mighty Heat would be a pretty good way to do that.