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Hoop it up all week with SI.com's writers in the NBA Playoffs Blog, a daily journal of NBA commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
12:33 AM ET, 5/09/06

Kidd & Carter come through

Posted by Andrew Lawrence
Jason Kidd
Jason Kidd had 22 points, nine rebounds and seven assists Monday night.
Issac Baldizon/NBAE via Getty Images
Don't call it a stunner -- because New Jersey's 100-88 victory over Miami in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series should come as a surprise to no one. Long before the second-seeded Heat welcomed the third-seeded Nets to the America Airlines Arena on Monday night, the Heat's many shortcomings were laid bare against a plucky Chicago team that would parlay a .500 finish into a seven seed in the playoffs.

The Bulls' strategy for an upset, while simple (force a faster tempo, bait Shaq into early foul trouble and avoid turnovers at all costs) failed them in the long run -- some might say due to Chicago's apparently inferior personnel. Inferior, at least in theory, to New Jersey's, which came into the series boasting one of the league's most explosive swingmen in Richard Jefferson, one of the most lethal in Vince Carter, an up-and-coming center in Nenad Krstic and a future Hall of Famer in Jason Kidd (while Chitown crashed the playoff party with only Ben Gordon and spare parts).

When we last saw J-Kidd, he was getting his lunch handed to him by Anthony Johnson who, it should be noted, never even scored 40 points in his driveway before torching Kidd for a career tally in the Nets' series clincher against the Pacers last week. Shooting in the high-20s to low-30 percentages from the field, Kidd was also at odds with his stroke, struggling mightily through the first five games before finally finding it early in the second half of Game 6.

Against Miami, he was hot from the start, sinking his first four shots from the field en route to a 22-point, nine-rebound and seven-assist night. Carter led the Nets with 27 points, Jefferson added 20 and there was little Miami could do to stop them. Gary Payton is still a step too slow, Jason Williams too unconcerned with playing defense and Antoine Walker too ill-equipped to deal with a player of Carter's considerable offensive talents.

And Carter is at his best when he is going to the hole, this we know. Against Walker, he got there anytime he pleased, blowing past him, then Shaq on the way to easy and-1s. While he of course heaved his share of shots from outside (I have five of his 15 misses coming near or behind the 3-point line), it's the ferocity with which he attacked the hoop (as the Nets made points of the first-quarter turnovers) that helped make the difference for New Jersey.

Granted, the difference could've been a lot wider than the final score suggests had New Jersey not gone cold from the field or gotten careless with the ball (the Nets led by as much as 28 before the Heat pared it to 97-86 with 2:48 left), but Kidd's 20-foot jumper over Dwyane Wade (coming not long after Wade had sent Kidd's fastbreak layup into the photo pit) sealed the Game 1 and home-court advantage for the visitors. Assuming RJ's a go for Wednesday, I wouldn't be surprised to see them do it again.


Posted: 1:19 AM   by Anonymous
The Heat are no match for New Jersey, in any aspect. Bring on Detriot.
Posted: 1:51 AM   by Anonymous
The Heat are a little bloated. Gary Payton and Antoine Walker need to find their niche (defense, outside shooting). The Nets meanwhile are an active gritty team with Vince Carter dashing and slashing. He is on a mission to shed the label of underachiver. The Heat and their stature is the perfect victim. However, they play the games for a reason.
Posted: 2:00 AM   by Anonymous
I had a violent physical reaction reading the words "Ben Gordon and spare parts." Ben Gordon is the fourth best player on the Bulls (Kirk Hinrich, Andres Nocioni, and Chris Duhon). Why can't anyone acknowledge what we've built in Chicago?
Is anyone here worried about RJ? without him at 100%, Nets don't stand a chance. J-Kidd probably won't shoot like that again. so with VC going solo on the wings, it would be hard to see the Nets win 3 more games against a healthy albeit inconsistent Heat. The Nets would be pretty darn predictable on offense without RJ. On the upside, Nenad has to bring in his 1st round performance (or better) for the Nets to compensate for the gap RJ will leave. lets face it, NJ won't be as formidable without RJ. Here's to wishing RJ will be 100% come Game 2. if not, series shifts to East Rutherford with the count tied, 1-1
Posted: 4:42 AM   by Dom Blendell
The MDE is now little more than Most Dissapointing Ever. If Shaq Daddy cared or was dedicated to working out during the off season he could still be pulling down 12 boards, blocking 4 shots and dunking over people at will. Instead, he cries about how he is officiated and doesnt get on with the job. With internal bickering amongst Wade/Payton/Walker, it doesnt look like Shaq Fu is going to be adding anymore rings to those fingers, making up, (when you take into account the revolutionary package he brought to the league back in '92), for a pretty M Dissapointing E career.
Posted: 7:25 AM   by Anonymous
It really doesn't matter how much talent the Heat have. If the talented are knuckleheads they are usually going to fail. Character guys will get you there faster MR. Riley.
Posted: 8:14 AM   by Anonymous
Heat will still win this thing. It may be ugly but Miami will be the one facing Detroit.
Posted: 8:50 AM   by Anonymous
what we've built in chicago?" a team with no big man and no top-25 player that can't get out of the first round. you're no longer relevant.

as for basketball going on right now ... if jefferson is alright, the heat can't handle all the mismatches on defense. shaq and wade are the two best players on the court, but they save their energy for offense and are pretty banged up.
Posted: 9:16 AM   by Anonymous
Am I missing something here? The heat are a DEFENSIVE minded team right? Why don't they throw a couple of hard fouls Vince Carter's way and watch him spend the rest of the game firing away from long range.

Everybody knows that Vince Carter is a really talented scorer with one major flaw: He is a baby who does not take contact well!

Have Shaq or Alonzo put him to the floor a couple of times and he'll be reduced to an outside shooter - it's that simple. I can't believe Riles hasn't thought of that...
Posted: 12:13 PM   by Dennis
All season long naysayers have constantly ridiculed the Nets, insisting Detroit and the Heat will be the finalists in the East. It is just game one and the party is just getting started, but how did you like me now?
Posted: 1:02 PM   by Anonymous
I agree with you about Chicago. I think Jim Paxson should be given more credit for the "youth" movement in place at Chicago. It's a perfect blend of young players sprinkled with some veterans to mentor the young fellas. Andres Nocioni was a BEAST against Miami. He's the most valuable player for the baby Bulls.....all they need now is a legit and consistent low post threat. Miami is in TROUBLE. Gary Payton is only an average defender, at best, because he's over-the-hill. Antoine Walker, Derek Anderson, and Shandon Anderson don't have the lateral quickness to stay with quick, athletic perimeter players and Jason Williams is ALLERGIC to defense. Pat Riley made the decision to sacrifice defense over offense by adding these guys to the team. Somewhere, Rascual Butler and Eddie Jones are smiling.
Posted: 1:08 PM   by Kman
The reason the Nets won was because Jefferson made Toine look completely lost as usually even if it was for only 20 pts (albeit in 23 minutes). Riles should've watched tape of Toine trying to cover Jefferson when he was in Boston. Its a joke. The reason the Heat came back was because Jefferson got hurt. If he's healthy NJ wins No problem.
Posted: 1:11 PM   by Anonymous
Why should anyone acknowledge a team that stunk and had no right to even be in the playoffs? I also think you'd have a hard time finding anyone who agrees that Gordon is only the fourth best player.
Posted: 1:16 PM   by Anonymous
Ben Gordon and "spare parts?" Surely you jest?
Posted: 1:31 PM   by Anonymous
Payton is the cancer that cost the Lakers to lose 2 years back and he is the cancer that will get the heat eliminated this series. j. Will and the trey chucker walker are no better.
Posted: 1:53 PM   by Anonymous
I agree with "anonymous 3" that the Bulls really did build a good young team, especially with a probable lottery pick in this year's draft (New York's pick); the East should be fun in the next few years with the Baby-Bulls, the Lebrons, and oh yeh the Deeetroiters..... As for this year, there's no match for the Pistons in the East. In the West, the Spurs may have the only chance, but I doubt it.
Posted: 4:29 PM   by Anonymous
I agree with the last comment about the disrespect Lawrence shows to the Bulls by calling them "Ben Gordon and spare parts". He obviously didn't watch Chicago very much this year, as Kirk Hinrich and Andres Nocioni are both better all-around players than Gordon. And, like Ben, both Nocioni and Hinrich averaged 20+ points per game in the series against the Heat.
Posted: 7:05 PM   by Anonymous
How many times do I have to read about the Heat...The Nets are no "Baby Bulls" and they are going to run Miami out of the building. Any true basketball fan understands why Old Man Shaq got traded from L.A., he is done. End of story.
Posted: 9:34 PM   by Anonymous
Nets can't win. They rely too much on their perimeter players. Regardless of the talent (look at Phoenix), inside presence is a big factor. Heat will beat out the nets in the end. The same issues faced the Lakers a few years back but they got to the finals. Wade and Shaq will carry them to the end.
Posted: 1:44 AM   by David
Ok - the NBA "is" the NBA (mix and match teams, overall, big money, etc.), but I have a very deep preference for teams that build themselves as a real TEAM, largely from the ground up, or at least invest time building one. This is why I have a hard time rooting for teams like the Heat who, like most, just try to buy a championship with big trades and free agents. I think you'll see that the best teams are TEAMS who have built themselves to a large degree by developing many of their own players. Hats off to Chicago, even though they haven't figured out their big guys yet. (Indiana has done this over some time. Don't ignore them.)

Same thing for most of the other best teams. The core of top teams like the Spurs, and Dallas are their own, not bought or borrowed. It's a business, a big one, but I think the best teams do have some loyalty to something besides money.

The Pistons and Suns might be considered the exceptions here, largely built through strategic trades. But somehow even they seem cohesive, as if certain specific players were sought for a certain type of team. They have their own philosophies, if you will, and identities. They function as teams.

Perhaps that is obvious. Except for teams like Shaq-Kobe with 2 unstoppable superstars (which Shaq no longer appears to be), you can't slap a team together, even with near all-stars. The Heat won't make it, perhaps even past NJ. The Nets have a stronger identity (yes, I clearly believe in this), with a core of Kidd, Collins, Jefferson, and one they developed themselves - Krystic. Carter, as others have said, has something to prove, and he is talented enough to do it. He may be their version of the Rasheed Wallace trade a few years ago by the Pistons. But with a weak bench, they'll probably just wear out. But I definitely like them over the Heat, in spite of their inside and bench weaknesses. The Heat are an example of what's wrong with the NBA.
Posted: 8:14 AM   by David
Just a post-script:

For the "record," I think the real glue of the Shaq-Kobe teams were Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, and Robert Horry. Same story - a team has to be a team. In some ways, you're really only as good as your 5th, or 6th, or 7th, or 8th player (I admit, I've forgotten who was on that LA bench, but they must have been worth something).