San Antonio Spurs (1st in west)
Key factor for Nets: Don’t allow open corner 3’s.
Every year the Spurs run a very efficient and smart offense because of good shot selection. Gregg Poppovich was the first coach to understand the value of the corner 3-pointer, the easiest 3-pointer to hit because it is the shortest distance and that is what San Antonio’s offense is built around. Kawhi Leonard, Danny Green, Matt Bonner, and others love this shot. The Nets need to stay at home on the 3-point shooters and not help if possible.
Every year people think the Spurs will be too old to compete and every year people are wrong. Although San Antonio’s big 3 is aging, they still have plenty of young players who fit in perfectly with their system. I’ll be surprised if they don’t win 57 games.
Memphis Grizzlies (5th in west)
Key factor for Nets: Be prepared to take a punch or two.
As in the past, the Grizzlies will be an excellent defensive team this year and painful to watch at times on offense. Memphis management has done a great job of keeping the core of this team together for 4 or 5 years now and the players know their roles on this team. For the Nets, the key will be being able to win a close low scoring game and keep passing on offense. This is the kind of team that would have forced Brooklyn into too many isolation possessions last year. If the Nets resort to that again this year, they won’t have a chance to win.
With the core in place, I see this team finishing with a better record than Houston, who could have some chemistry problems. However, the Grizzlies have looked exceptionally bad on offense in the preseason and don’t have any true scorers. They will likely need to win a lot of games by scores like 85-82.
Houston Rockets (6th in west)
Key factor for Nets: Find a defensive stopper for James Harden.
Even though the Rockets picked up Dwight Howard in free agency, the leader of this team is James Harden, who is as unstoppable on offense as any player in the league. The Nets will need Andrei Kirilenko to guard Harden in this game because I’m not sure they have any defender in their starting lineup who can contain him. There will be nights this year where he will score 40 or maybe 50.
I don’t like the Rockets as much as some people mainly because they really don’t have a point guard. Houston still really has not decided who will start between Jeremy Lin and Patrick Beverley and I think this could be a problem down the line. Without a quality point guard, will Dwight Howard be frustrated like he was last year in L.A.? It’s possible. I also see this team as similar to the Nets last year: pretty talented but not much leadership or heart. That could lead to another first round playoff exit.
New Orleans Pelicans (8th in west)
Key factor for Nets: Get the big guys involved.
New Orleans does not have a big team with their only quality big guy being Anthony Davis. Therefore, if the Nets ran a lineup with Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett, and either Andrei Kirilenko or Reggie Evans, they should get just about every rebound available.
The Pelicans desperately want to make the playoffs this year, as evidenced by their trade to acquire Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel and another first round pick this year. They will definitely be better than they were last year but the biggest reason for that could be that Anthony Davis should be improved in year 2. I think the combination of Davis and the guards (Holiday, Eric Gordon, and Tyreke Evans) will just be enough to allow New Orleans to sneak into the playoffs.
Dallas Mavericks (12th in west)
Key factor for Nets: Turn Monta Ellis into a shot chucker.
The Mavericks have a brand new backcourt with Jose Calderon, Devin Harris, and Monta Ellis that they think will lead them back to the playoffs after missing out last year. However, I don’t think Ellis will fit nicely with the rest of this team. Ellis wants to be the main scorer for his team and the Mavs already have Dirk Nowitzki, a first ballot hall-of-famer. If the Nets can make Ellis do what he wants, which is take 20 shots per game, they should win easily.
Dallas is a team who had a confusing offseason to me. Aside from Dirk, almost everybody is new. The problem with all the new players is that most of them are journeymen who never stuck on anywhere else even though most of the new players are pretty talented. Although I can never see Dirk requesting a trade from the team that drafted him, he may secretly wish he was able to get out of this situation.