Tuesday , Apr , 04 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

Are the Nets contenders of pretenders?

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

(Sports Network) – The New Jersey Nets are playing great basketball and will
head into the Eastern Conference playoffs as the likely No. 3 seed. They are
peaking at the right time and appear to be a serious threat in the East.

All-Star Vince Carter leads the Nets in scoring, while starting point guard
Jason Kidd is the team’s top rebounder and top assist man. Versatile forward
Richard Jefferson, who is second on the club in scoring and rebounding, is
also having an excellent season.

New Jersey’s talented trio has received some help from center Nenad Krstic,
forward Jason Collins and 39-year-old veteran Cliff Robinson. Krstic, who is
playing in his second year in the league, has added scoring and rebounding,
while Robinson and Collins have played important minutes and have filled
valuable roles for the Nets.

The Nets are definitely the best team in a very weak Atlantic Division. They
are not as deep at the Detroit Pistons or Miami Heat, but their three top
players (Carter, Jefferson, Kidd) can match up against any threesome in the
league.

Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Toronto combine with the Nets to form the
Atlantic Division. New Jersey plays 16 of its 82 games against their division
rivals, which is not a bad thing. In fact, New Jersey is the only team above
.500 and could be the lone representative from the Atlantic in the postseason.

Detroit and Miami appear to be headed for a collision in the Eastern
Conference finals. That is if the Nets are simply pretenders and not
contenders.

If all goes according to plan and the Nets and Heat, no matter who is seeded
second or third, win their first round playoff series, they would square off
in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals.

Miami has the dynamic Dwyane Wade and the dominant inside force Shaquille
O’Neal. The Heat’s roster is also made up of some talented and crafty veterans
who know how to win in the postseason.

Forwards Udonis Haslem, James Posey, Antoine Walker, center Alonzo Mourning,
who is expected to be back from a calf injury for the playoffs, and guards
Gary Payton and Jason Williams combine with Shaq and Wade to make the Heat
deeper and more talented than the Nets.

Even though the Nets beat the Heat in three of their four meetings during the
campaign, the bottom line is that New Jersey is going to have a problem
handling Miami in a best-of-seven series.

The Pistons, who have already clinched the Central Division and the top spot
in the Eastern Conference, would not matchup with the Nets until the
conference finals. Detroit has the best starting five in the NBA which
consists of four All-Stars (Ben Wallace, Rasheed Wallace, Chauncey Billups,
Richard Hamilton) and an unsung hero in Tayshaun Prince, who could have been
an All-Star as well.

New Jersey was 2-2 against Detroit this season. But once again, the
Pistons are too talented for the Nets. The Pistons know how to win and when
the playoffs arrive they turn it up to the next level.

The playoffs are won down low. Detroit and Miami have decent size and players
who can score in the low post. New Jersey is led by three very talented
players who win with their athleticism and natural ability.

There is no disputing that Carter, Jefferson and Kidd are amazing, talented
players. They play very well together and treat their fans to a lot of
highlight reel moments. But, even this talented threesome will not be able to
overcome the Heat or Pistons in a best-of-seven series.

The Nets are the third best team in the Eastern Conference. Unfortunately for
the rest of the East, until someone knocks off the Pistons everyone is simply
a pretender not a contender.

NJN