To hear Lionel Hollins’ take on the upcoming Nets-Hawks series, Atlanta is the better team from top to bottom.
Lionel Hollins isn’t shying away from Brooklyn’s underdog status in its playoff series with the Hawks. To listen the coach, the Nets are simply overmatched, from top to bottom.
In a contrary mood during a conference call Thursday, Hollins essentially placed the onus on himself to overcome Brooklyn’s various deficiencies with the right “game plan.” Either that or he made a calculated move to place further pressure on an opponent with the No. 1 seed and very little playoff experience.
The coach wasn’t exactly leading a Brooklyn rally cry ahead of Sunday’s Game 1.
“I don’t think we have any advantage over the Hawks. That’s why they’re (60-22) and that’s why we are (38-44),” Hollins said. “They have a very good team. We have to develop a game plan, control the tempo, rebound and score against them consistently. They’ve played well against a lot of teams, including us. So it’s not like I think we have an advantage going in. We have to a game plan that can help us go out and compete against them.”
The Nets were swept over four games by the Hawks during the regular season, including twice in blowout fashion with Atlanta flexing its ball movement, jump shooting and athleticism. Brooklyn’s most consistent offensive force in those games was Brook Lopez, who averaged 18.8 points and 7.5 boards while towering over Atlanta’s frontcourt. He also shot 67 percent on 36 points inside the paint.
But Hollins wasn’t convinced Lopez’s interior play provides the Nets with an advantage.
“He’s been bigger all the other four games we played them and it hasn’t worked,” said Hollins, who accumulated an 18-17 postseason record with Memphis. “He’s had some good games, I’m just saying that we have to go play our game. I don’t think keying on one guy from an offensive perspective is going to scare the Hawks. We have to scare the Hawks with our whole offensive scheme with how we move the ball, how we cut and pass and make them have to play the whole court on defense. Brook will be a big part of our game plan as we go forward. So will Joe (Johnson). So will Deron (Williams). So will Jarrett (Jack). That’s who we’ve been going towards all year long so that’s not going to change.”
Hall of Famer Charles Barkley, the outspoken TNT analyst, seemed more optimistic about the Nets than their coach, for two reasons: 1) Lopez, 2) he isn’t sold on the Hawks, despite their four All-Stars, because they’re small and too reliant on jumpers.
Brook Lopez could be the key to the Nets pulling off an massive upset against the Hawks.
“They’re going to struggle against Lopez down low,” he said. “Brook Lopez is going to be getting layups and dunks. (Atlanta center) Al Horford, who is a terrific player, and (forward) Paul Millsap, they’re going to shooting jumpers. I don’t like jump shooting teams in a seven-game series. …Jump shooting teams don’t get you in foul trouble.
“I don’t think Brooklyn can beat them, but I think it can be an interesting series.”
Among the storylines of the series is the return of Joe Johnson to Atlanta, where he is still regularly booed after playing seven seasons as the Hawks’ star player.
Although Johnson said Wednesday he feels no added pressure or incentive to beat a team he left three years ago, Barkley expects a big attempt from the 33-year-old.
“I think what’s going to be interesting is the Joe Johnson factor, because I can promise you something: Joe Johnson is going to try to win that series by himself,” Barkley said. “He may not say it, he may not say it, but I guarantee you.”
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