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Nets vs. Celtics playoff preview: Can a Brooklyn team with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving be the underdog?


This time previous year, the roles were reversed.

The Nets concluded the 2020-21 regular season with the No. 2 seed, while the Boston Celtics defeated the Washington Wizards in the to start with activity of the play-in event to secure the East’s No. 7 place.

The Nets, with a roster headlined by Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, created speedy operate of an outmatched Celtics team. Brooklyn received the series, 4-1, only surrendering the to start with sport on Boston’s house court.

But matters have modified due to the fact that fateful collection. Boston’s mastermind Brad Stevens moved into a entrance office role and poached Nets’ lead assistant coach Ime Udoka. Udoka assisted change the Celtics into the league’s best defensive group. He unlocked Marcus Smart as a genuine Defensive Participant of the Calendar year candidate and formulated Jayson Tatum’s playmaking and on-courtroom leadership competencies. Udoka has taken a fringe playoff contender and legitimized them.

And, for the Nets, now the shoe is on the other foot.

“They’ve bought 6 or 7 new gamers [since last year’s playoff series],” Durant mentioned in the days major up to Sunday’s Video game 1. “I’m not even pondering about last season. A person of our coaches is their mentor now.”

This time around, it’s the Nets who endured the league’s enjoy-in event, discarding the Cleveland Cavaliers to cement their standing as the East’s seventh seed.

It’s the Nets who face the unenviable process of playing a lot more video games in Boston than in Brooklyn, more video games in front of the league’s most hostile playoff atmosphere, with followers who reserve their vitriol for Irving, who the moment decreed his like for Boston only to depart for Brooklyn.

It’s the Nets who drew the league’s No. 1 defense, and the league’s most effective group in general in the final 15 game titles of the season, as their initially-spherical playoff matchup.

And it is the Nets who all of a sudden locate them selves as underdogs — or do they? — in however one more championship-or-bust year derailed by things nicely outdoors their manage.

“I feel that we do [identify as underdogs], and we really do not,” head coach Steve Nash stated right after Nets practice Saturday. “If we have been with each other for the year, we would not be seventh, and so we wouldn’t be an underdog.”

The Nets absolutely do not feel like underdogs. They were being the No. 1 group in the Eastern Convention with a 27-15 document in advance of a Jan. 15 MCL sprain sidelined Durant a month and a fifty percent, sending the Nets on an 11-recreation dropping streak.

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By the time Durant returned, the Nets have been in participate in-in territory, having difficulties to preserve the crew from ending the period in 10th location.

That is the fact of Brooklyn’s season: When balanced, when whole, they’ve been just about unbeatable. They haven’t been entire, even so, all time.

Not with Irving (unvaccinated) ineligible to engage in until Jan. 5 and ineligible to participate in at residence right until March 27. Not with Harden out of shape, unmotivated and finally disgruntled ample to power his way to Philly at the trade deadline. Not with Joe Harris needing ankle surgical procedure a month and improve into the typical season. And, of study course, not without Durant, who might have deserved far more MVP thing to consider only based on the Nets’ tailspin as soon as the damage place him on ice.

“I experience like our season was derailed by my damage,” Durant reported on April 4. “I’m not on the lookout at it like we’re just not a fantastic basketball workforce. There wasn’t a lot of continuity with me and Kyrie out of the lineup. That’s just what it is. When we’re all on the floor jointly, I like what we’ve acquired.”

These days, Tatum is beginning to seem like he belongs in the MVP dialogue. In Year 5, Tatum is averaging 27 details, eight rebounds and 4.4 helps for each game. In their March 6 conference — a match the Nets begun the very same players they’ll very likely start off the entirety of this first-round series — Tatum scored 54 points, and all four other Celtics starters strike double figures.

Durant scored 37 but only received 19 from Irving — in his 1st activity at Boston’s TD Garden all year. The Celtics hung on to earn by six.

“I know their activity,” Udoka stated in advance of tipoff that evening. “It’s not about their sets, offensively. It is about who they are. They’re not working nearly anything challenging. It’s get them (Durant and Irving) the ball, and permit them do what they do.”

That 54-place outburst is at the core of the Nets’ activity arranging for Boston. Do they make it possible for Tatum to go nuclear whilst hoping to neutralize individuals close to him? Or do they force Jaylen Brown, Smart, Derrick White and enterprise to play over their means although making an attempt to consider Tatum absolutely out of the game?

“That’s the crux of it,” Nash explained. ”What would you alternatively stomach? Do you rather give Jayson much more option versus around committing to him and making it possible for other fellas to have quote unquote a lot easier motion?”

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What would Nash somewhat belly?

“Oh,” he mentioned with a large smile. “That’s not for me to examine.”

Neither is Ben Simmons, the star place forward obtained in the Harden offer who could be available to engage in in the initially round — depending on whose phrases you think.

Even though newsbreakers Adrian Wojnarowski, Shams Charania and Brian Windhorst have just about every described increased optimism all-around Simmons earning his debut in-involving Games 4 and 6 of the very first round, Nash has remained restricted-lipped about the development Simmons has made. Nash on Friday, for case in point, reported Simmons “hasn’t completed anything at all yet” observe-smart, only for Wojnarowski to report on ESPN Saturday morning that Simmons has been running and taking pictures for around a week.

“I imagine plainly he’s enhancing,” Nash instructed reporters after observe on Saturday, “but I have no strategy if he’s acquiring close to perform or not.”

Even if he can engage in by Sport 4, Simmons won’t be 100%, he will not be in sport form, and he won’t have any basketball underneath his belt just after sitting down the entrance 50 percent of the year in Philadelphia, then suffering a herniated disk for the duration of his ramp-up in Brooklyn.

Simmons’ standing is a microcosm for why the Nets could be underdogs, even if they have two of the 3 finest players on the ground at all periods. They ended the typical period on a four-video game profitable streak — 5 if you include the participate in-in — and winners of 12 of their very last 17 games, but the Celtics ended their regular period with metrics that recommend they’re the ideal team in all of basketball.

The Celtics could have ducked the Nets by resting their starters in the normal-season finale. While the Bucks took that route, Boston pummeled the Memphis Grizzlies by 29 to cement a very first-round matchup with a reputable championship contender.

So does the No. 7 seed make the Nets underdogs, or is their seeding a facade? Are they actually a No. 1 or 2 seed playing in opposition to a crew that wouldn’t be seeded as superior experienced it not been for Brooklyn’s midseason meltdown?

“Now that we are with each other I sense like we have an skill to conquer folks for confident,” Nash said. “But the continuity is that piece and we just have not had a large amount of time jointly. So attempting to conquer that in a quick time period of time is our challenge.”

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