Miami Heat (2nd in east)
Key factor for Nets: Don’t give up open 3’s.
In my view, the Heat have two main weapons on offense: Lebron James and hitting open 3’s. I’m not sure the Nets, or any team for that matter, has anybody who can stop Lebron (although Andrei Kirilenko may disagree), so what I think the Nets should do is limit the players around Lebron and try to make him into more of a Carmelo Anthony-type of player on offense. Don’t give open looks to Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, Norris Cole, and even Chris Bosh, who has shown he can make a 3.
The Lebron James-Miami experiment has clearly been a success, but this season, the Heat will have a bigger target on their back then ever before, even in the regular season. They will be getting their opponents’ best shots nearly every night and I think they won’t be as good a regular season team this year as they were last year. Remember, during Lebron’s time in South Beach, the only year they finished with the best record in the east was last season.
Washington Wizards (7th in east)
Key factor for Nets: Don’t allow penetration from John Wall
John Wall has never been a very good shooter at all. Even though he says he has worked on his shooting a lot in the offseason, his preseason numbers would disagree with that. Therefore, Wall is going to be doing the majority of his scoring in the paint. The Nets’ guards will need to try to force Wall into shooting outside shots, but if he does get inside, Brook Lopez will need to do his best to change Wall’s shot if not block it.
The Wizards are in playoffs-or-bust mode this year and will likely break up the team entirely if they don’t get in. They’ve gotten all the knuckleheads (Andray Blatche included) off the team and they’ve added some pretty good players like Marcin Gortat. On top of that, Bradley Beal is poised for a breakout year and John Wall has as much to prove as anybody in the league this season. I think they sneak into the playoffs with 43 wins.
Atlanta Hawks (9th in east)
Key factor for Nets: Allow Deron Williams to control the offense and lead.
With the loss of Josh Smith, I don’t think Atlanta will be nearly as good on defense as they have been in the past. Paul Millsap is a good replacement on offense, but he is not a great defensive player at all. If the Nets could use the ball movement they have displayed in the preseason against Atlanta, they should be able to score 100 easily on these guys.
This is finally Al Horford’s team now with Josh Smith and Joe Johnson gone. I think Horford’s a very good player, good enough to just get this team into the playoffs at .500. However, but not quite good enough to get this team into the playoffs by himself. The Hawks have a very weak bench and their only established guard is Jeff Teague unless Lou Williams can get healthy. The Hawks might get 40 wins.
Orlando Magic (12th in east)
Key factor for Nets: Don’t be shellshocked if this team is competitive and hangs around.
The Magic will be better than people expect this year. Although I don’t think they will be close to making the playoffs, they will be able to beat, or at least compete, with some good teams and Orlando is actually pretty talented. For the Nets, the key will be keeping your foot on the gas pedal if Orlando is still in the game in the second half. Because this team is so young, if the Nets are persistent, they will eventually fade.
The issue for Orlando now is not a lack of talent; it is a lack of leadership because of how many young players they have. The only established veterans are Aaron Afflalo, Glen Davis, and Jameer Nelson (who is shockingly still with this team after all these years). If they get a high draft pick, the Magic could make the playoffs as soon as next year.
Charlotte Bobcats (13th in east)
Key factor for Nets: Keep Kemba Walker out of the paint.
Like John Wall, Kemba Walker is not a great shooter, but he can score in bunches if you let him get inside. I think Walker will have a much better season this year than he has had in his first two seasons.
The Bobcats are another team that won’t be nearly as bad this year as they have been in the past. With Al Jefferson, they now have a legitimate all-star post player who has had big games against the Nets in the past. However, the rest of the team is still too young to even sniff the playoffs this season.