Game Seven. Nets and Bucks. 109-107 Milwaukee with the lead. Three seconds left. Nets superstar Kevin Durant with the ball, backing into elite defender P.J Tucker. He turns, shoots, and hits a miraculous shot for the win.
But hold the fireworks. Durant’s foot was just barely on the line, sending the game into overtime. The Nets fell to the eventual champion Bucks in a heart-breaking loss 115-111 in OT.
How did the Nets lose?
There were many excuses for the Nets. Injuries were piling up, first with James Harden missing three games and Kyrie Irving missing the last four. Hell, Harden was playing on one leg for the last three games of the series. Then it appeared that officials missed key calls which negatively impacted Brooklyn. There was a no-call in Game Four when Kyrie landed on Giannis Antetokounmpo’s foot, violating the league’s landing space rule.
As a result of the play, Irving sprained his ankle and missed the rest of the series. The NBA also admitted after the series a multitude of Antetkounmpo free-throw violations that could have kept vital points off the scoreboard wasn’t called. Those were both just two of the many instances where questionable calls came back to haunt the Nets.
Why the Nets will come back stronger
Last year, injuries haunted Brooklyn. KD, Harden, and Irving all missed over 18 games on the year. Harden and Durant missed 36 and 37 games respectively. The Nets still managed to win 48 games and snag the two seed in a hotly contested Eastern Conference. The bench consisted of these players. It was a ragtag group of individuals, a group thrown together to play behind the Nets three-headed monster.
Now, the star players are coming back healthy. Harden’s season was an anomaly, as he was never seriously injured in his career before last year. Irving and Durant have admittedly had injury-riddled pasts, yet with some load management here and there can be ready to go for 90% of Nets games this year.
As for the Nets bench, savvy acquisitions have boosted the depth and overall quality of the team. Summer League co-MVP Cam Thomas already figures to be an electric sixth man this year. James Johnson provides some much-needed toughness to the team. Patty Mills can have a Derrick Rose-Immanuel Quickly type of effect on Thomas, and he brings a championship pedigree and good shooting stroke from his days in San Antonio.
Jevon Carter and DeAndre’ Bembry round out a much-improved bench on a much-improved team as a whole. Jeff Green’s departure stung, but the acquisitions more than makeup for his loss.
The Nets will have had a year of playing together under their belts. The newly-formed chemistry will help, as well as Steve Nash gaining more experience as a coach. At first, many were doubting the fit, like Harden, Durant, and Irving are all ball-dominant players.
They quickly put those takes to bed. The Beard led the league in assists per game, and both Durant and Irving averaged 27 points per game. Although the big three only played together six times every game back this season will be a game of added chemistry and more of a feel for the offense.
What about the contenders?
For the first time in a long time, the East appears to be a better conference than the West. Teams like Miami, Milwaukee, and Philly all have finals aspirations this year, as well as teams coming out of the west like the Lakers, Suns, and Jazz. Let’s take a look at some of the contenders.
The Heat made a couple of significant splashes during the off-season. They made a blockbuster deal bringing Kyle Lowry over from Toronto and then lured P.J Tucker over from Milwaukee. After re-signing Victor Oladipo on a minimum deal, Miami roster of all time. A starting five of Lowry, Oladipo, Jimmy Butler, Tucker, and Bam Adebayo will endlessly frustrate opposing offenses. The only thing that can hold them back from a title run is their glaring lack of outside shooting.
Even with Miami’s suffocating defense, Brooklyn’s outside shooting will prove to be the difference-maker in a hypothetical series between these two teams.
The duo of Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons might be nearing its end but the trade package for Simmons might be enough to keep this roster contending for a title. CJ McCollum would be a huge help to this roster as a scoring guard. Embiid is good enough to carry this team on his own. With the emergence of Matisse Thybulle as a defensive menace and Tyrese Maxey poised to become the starting point guard, the young players will have to step up big time this year.
The Nets will still soundly defeat Philly. The sheer amount of firepower Brooklyn has will be enough to beat them.
The team to beat in the East following their miraculous championship run, the Bucks are looking to run it back for year two. With the fearsome trio of Giannis, Khris Middleton, and Jrue Holiday, Milwaukee is one of the few teams that can go toe to toe with Brooklyn. However, Brooklyn’s improved bench is going to be an X-factor in a potential series between these two heavyweights. With the additions mentioned above, I think the added scoring and defensive toughness will translate into a series win for the Nets this time around.
It would definitely be a tight series, but this time Brooklyn will pull away in six.
Los Angeles Lakers
The only real threat to Brooklyn in the West, LA’s own trio of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, and Russell Westbrook provides a difficult challenge for the Nets. The size and strength of that big three can wear down Brooklyn over a grueling seven-game series. But LA’s lack of shooting will cause their downfall. The floor will be cramped in the half-court setting, and points will be hard to come by.
The Nets have a terrific team this year, a team that will inevitably win the finals