The Nets are on a one-game winning streak but all kidding aside, the game they played Thursday night in Charlotte has given them and their coach some hope that they can win a few more of the 16 remaining games on the schedule.
They’re as healthy as they’ve been since Opening Night when Jeremy Lin went down, the roster is stable with little to no chance of any additions or subtractions before April 11. And they are playing well.
“I want to end the season with significantly more, not one or two, I don’t think that’s [enough],” Kenny Atkinson said Friday. “Sure, I think in the back of your mind, you’re always thinking, ‘How much better are we?’
“I’m frustrated we were on a pretty good pace to really shatter it.” he added, referring to the 20 win level. “Now that we’ve got this group healthy and we’ve got this group together, we’re going to close it out and we’re going to improve it by a decent margin instead of a little margin.”
This isn’t the worst stretch in franchise history. That would have been the period between 1986 and 1991 when they never topped 26 wins in a season for five years. Then, in 1991, the team added Kenny Anderson and Drazen Petrovic to the backcourt. They won 40 and started a three-year run of playoffs. The last three years in Jersey weren’t great either with win totals of 12, 24 and 22 (the last being lockout shortened).
The big additions this week are Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. As Brian Lewis notes, all you have to do is compare Thursday’s game and the last time Brooklyn and Charlotte paired off two weeks ago. The Nets didn’t the two 6’7” 23-year-olds and Dwight Howard ran roughshod over them, clearing 24 boards in a 111-96 Hornet win. This time? CLV and RHJ combined for 40 points, 16 rebounds and 12 assists as the Nets built a 21-point lead, winning by 14. Howard had seven rebounds.
There was also the offensive balance, between shooting from deep and driving to the basket. The Nets are actually second in the former and fifth in the latter, but getting both to work in the same game has been an issue, one Atkinson addressed at halftime in North Carolina.
“We talked about it at halftime,” Atkinson said, noting of their 3-point shooting if the first two quarters. “I still felt like we took a few contested ones. We had to drive their rotations, drive their close-outs. I think the first play of the game, they closed at Allen Crabbe hard, and he ripped it left and hits a shot.”
“We’ve just got to find that balance of getting to the rim and then shooting the open catch-and-shoot threes. That’s what we love at the end of the day. That’s what we work for. But great balance in terms of driving and shooting the three.”
So what’s the schedule look for the remaining games. One negative is how few of the 16 games are at Barclays Center. Only half are home games, but there are a number of lottery teams ahead of them. They play the Bulls twice as well as the Mavericks, Grizzlies, Pistons, Magic and Hornets. All but the Pistons have reason to lose. Detroit’s first rounder goes to the Clippers at this point, top-four protected.
On the other hand, the Nets also play a number of games against teams that will be jockeying for position as the playoffs approach. They play the 76ers, now the sixth seed, twice; the Heat, now seventh; the Bucks, now eighth; and the Raptors, Celtics and Cavaliers, seeding 1, 2, and 3 at the moment. They have two games vs. Toronto.
So it’s pretty even, eight vs. playoffs, eight vs. lottery. The Nets would like to win 30, and would have to go 9-7 the rest of the way. That seems like a nice goal, but it also seems unlikely.
- Nets dreaming of big finish now that 2 key cogs are finally healthy - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets find winning formula by reducing number of contested three-point shots - Greg Logan - Newsday