The Brooklyn Nets (34-33) have had a tremendous season — exceeding all expectations, playing hard night in and night out, and generating genuine buzz around the league. But as the 7th seed in the East, this season’s toughest road lies right ahead.
A franchise that’s been bogged down by the “worst trade in NBA history” — giving up a plethora of future picks for two past-their-prime players — has finally turned their fortunes around. The Nets have been in the playoff hunt for the bulk of the season, but will have to fight tooth-and-nail to remain there.
According to Tankathon, the Nets’ remaining schedule is the league’s most difficult with 15 games to go. Their toughest opponents include the top four Eastern Conference teams, the Milwaukee Bucks (twice), the Toronto Raptors, the Indiana Pacers and the Philadelphia 76ers. You can also throw in the Oklahoma City Thunder to boot.
Brooklyn also has matchups with teams scrambling to cross the postseason finish line as well, in the Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat. There’s not one easy win on the Nets’ remaining schedule, the only debatable one being the disheartened Los Angeles Lakers.
The Nets have had their fair share of struggles this season alone. Caris LeVert jump-started their season by playing like an All-Star, only to miss several months due to a gruesome leg injury in November. He’s since returned, but hasn’t played at the level he was at earlier this season.
The Nets went 2-10 in the 12 games following LeVert’s injury, which raised the whispers of tanking for one more season, increasing the chances of getting a higher pick in the draft. There was no quit in Brooklyn though, as Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell elevated their play in LeVert’s absence, sparking the run that had the league talking.
Russell became an All-Star, the Nets were having as much fun as ever, but the true test starts now.
From here on out, the Nets have to have stellar performances every night to cling onto a playoff spot. They’re only three games ahead of the 9th-place Orlando Magic and 10th-place Charlotte Hornets, and let Detroit take control of the 6th seed.
Having Russell, Dinwiddie and LeVert back together is a blessing and a curse — even though the Nets have their three best players available, they haven’t had enough time together to clearly define their roles. When LeVert sat out, Russell and Dinwiddie took turns taking over, but the “my turn, your turn” approach can only take a team so far.
There’d be nothing more gut-wrenching than the Nets making a statement season, only to miss the playoffs again. In that scenario, do they have the upside of a Denver Nuggets team that missed the playoffs last year, but ascended to the top of their conference this year?
The front office has to figure out just how much this franchise core can accomplish together, with D’Angelo Russell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson hitting restricted free agency this summer. If the Nets can’t attract a full-fledged superstar in free agency, they might have to pay up — even overpay –for DLo’s services.
But for right now, the Nets have to take it a game at a time, not getting ahead of themselves. The race for the last three Eastern Conference playoff spots will be a dogfight, and the Nets will be right in the thick of it.