Chicago Bulls (1st in east)
Key factor for Nets: Get into a rhythm on offense.
Of course, the Nets will also need to figure out a defensive strategy to stop Derrick Rose, but that is a separate problem. In the playoff series last year, the Nets never looked comfortable on offense after game 1 and that is why they lost a series they should have won. Tom Thibodeau is probably the best defensive coach in the NBA, and Joakim Noah, Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson, and even Rose are some of the best defensive players. Jason Kidd will need to make sure this team doesn’t resort back to running only isolations, which is what they seem to do when things aren’t working.
I think the Bulls are going to have a great, at least in the regular season. Remember, the last two seasons Derrick Rose has been healthy, Chicago has had the best regular season record in the eastern conference, even better than Miami. After a year off, Rose has looked exactly like he did two years ago in the preseason. The question for Chicago will be if Thibodeau has learned from his mistakes last year and rests his players more in the regular season so that they will be healthy at the start of the playoffs.
Indiana Pacers (4th in east)
Key factor for Nets: Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett need to be better than David West and Roy Hibbert.
The Pacers have a big, tough front line with David West and Roy Hibbert, and that caused problems last year for Miami. This year, so do the Nets, but the Nets’ big men are even more talented than Indiana’s. Brook Lopez has won most of his matchups with Roy Hibbert in the past and he needs to keep that going this year.
I think Indiana is overrated. Sure, they were one game away from the finals last year, but they had favorable matchups with both Miami and Manhattan. Remember, it took them 6 games to beat Atlanta in the first round last year. Even though I think Paul George is an all-star, he is not the Lebron-stopper superstar that he looked like in the playoffs last year. The Pacers should win around 50 games this year, but they are not better than any of the top 3 teams in the east.
Detroit Pistons (5th in east)
Key factor for Nets: Stop the athletic big guys.
If there is one team I think the Nets should avoid in the first round of the playoffs, it is the Pistons. I think they have some favorable matchups with Brooklyn, starting with Andre Drummond. He looked great in the preseason game in Brooklyn and he is exactly the type of player that Brook Lopez has trouble defending and rebounding against. On top of that, Greg Monroe has always been underrated in my opinion, and having a defender like Josh Smith is a luxury.
With Jason Kidd retired and coaching, the next player that I think could become a coach as soon as he retires is Chauncey Billups, who the Pistons sneakily got in the offseason. For Detroit, it won’t necessarily matter how much Billups plays, but rather how much he can teach Brandon Jennings about being a team player and passer. I loved Detroit’s offseason and they are definitely a team to watch this year.
Cleveland Cavaliers (8th in east)
Key factor for Nets: Don’t let Kyrie Irving make you look silly.
I think the Nets matchup pretty well with the Cavs overall, but Kyrie Irving is always capable of having a monster game. If you have never seen him play, he is probably one of the top 5 players to watch in the NBA.
After Kyrie, there are a ton of question marks on this team. Best case scenario is that they win 47 games and easily make the playoffs, but if injuries happen, and they probably will, this team could tumble. Their two centers are Andrew Bynum and Anderson Varejao, both extremely injury-prone. After that, this team is mostly recent high draft picks that should be very good in a few years.
Milwaukee Bucks (14th in east)
Key factor for Nets: Don’t be afraid of Milwaukee’s size.
The Bucks have a very large team, but that does not necessarily mean they are very good. Aside from Larry Sanders, who had a breakout season last year, most of Milwaukee’s bigs are unproven. Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett are more talented.
Milwaukee’s offseason did not make much sense. It seemed to me like they just threw out a fishing net and caught a couple of free agents who don’t fit well together at all. They added more power forwards and centers even though they already had a crowded front court and then they lost Monta Ellis only to pick up O.J. Mayo. The Bucks have no identity and I can’t see them having a good season this year.