The big win over the Celtics doesn’t count in most Power Rankings, but even before that, the Nets retained their position ... right in the middle of the NBA pack. The individual rankings put them between Nos. 16 and 19. Not bad.
More than one pundit notes how important D’Angelo Russell is to the team. Others point to the Nets depth as the biggest surprise. How are they surviving all those injuries?
Since following an eight-game losing streak (in which they lost to the Wizards and Cavs) with a seven-game winning streak (in which they beat the Raptors and Sixers), the Nets have settled in to basically beating bad teams and losing to good ones. Their last five games have been both their fastest-paced stretch of the season (104.2 possessions per 48 minutes) and their best defensive stretch of the season (103.5 points allowed per 100 possessions), with improvement in opponent 3-point percentage (28 percent over the five games) and opponent free throw rate (19 attempts per 100 shots from the field). But they scored just 92 points per 100 in losses in Boston and Toronto, and they had more turnovers (62) than assists (60) in their three games last week. They play two more tough games on Monday and Wednesday before the schedule eases up a bit.
Despite their collection of journeymen, reclamation projects and mid-level prospects -- none of whom demands a double-team on his best day -- and the absence of their most productive player, the Nets sport a league-average offense and rank 11th in shot quality. That’s one reason they’ve placed themselves squarely in the Eastern Conference playoff race, rising as high as the No. 6 seed this past week
The Nets have no chance to win a game where D’Angelo Russell has more turnovers (six) than points (five) like he did Monday against the Celtics. He gets his shot at redemption to open this week in Brooklyn.
I thought they had no chance at making the postseason.
Again, because this is the East, some teams get to be in the playoff picture by default. We could have multiple below .500 teams find themselves in the final eight of the East this season, which would infuriate one of the deserving but ultimately futile attempts of the six teams (sorry, Phoenix) out West who will come up short. The Brooklyn Nets get to be one of the by default teams “competing” in the East playoff picture. Kenny Atkinson’s team has rallied after a long losing streak to thrust themselves into the picture. And this team is legitimately playing good basketball as they hope eventually Caris LeVert will return to the court to give them that final boost.
I didn’t think this would be possible for the Nets. I thought we’d see more competitive losses than bad losses for them. I thought we’d see more fight from them than getting beaten down. But I didn’t think they’d be consistently near a .500 record that would push them toward a real shot at the 8-seed. Some of that is the East, but some of that needs to be credited to Spencer Dinwiddie, Jarrett Allen, and a feisty supporting cast. The Nets are legitimately good when considering their level of talent compared to teams like Washington and Detroit. It would be refreshing to end their story this season with a few games in the first-round of the playoffs.
The early-season conclusion: Caris LeVert is a foundational franchise piece for the Nets, and his devastating injury will sink the Nets’ season. What it looks like now: LeVert is still a foundational piece for this team’s future - but the Nets have built enough of a solid organizational culture under Sean Marks that this team will end up in or near the playoffs anyway. It’s going to be fascinating to see how Marks will operate now that the shackles of the devastating Celtics trade of the previous regime are finally off.
The Nets have already surpassed their win total from 2016-17 (20-62). If the Nets beat Boston at home on Monday night, it will give them 22 victories on the season. Last year, they didn’t win their 22nd game until March, 17th, which was the 70th game of the season.
Brooklyn is 3-3 since its seven-game winning streak ended, which is actually encouraging. It may only take .500 ball the rest of the way to make the playoffs in the East.
Yet another right adductor strain has Rondae Hollis-Jefferson on the shelf, this time indefinitely, but that may not be as big of a problem as it seems. The Nets have plenty of depth, as evidenced by their bench outscoring New Orleans’ by a margin of 55-5 in Wednesday’s 126-121 win. Spencer Dinwiddie will always be Brooklyn’s best weapon off the pine, but DeMarre Carroll and Shabazz Napier combined for 31 points and helped the Nets torch the Pelicans for 73 first-half points.
RHJ, Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert can take their time coming back. Brooklyn’s reserves have things under control.
It was a topsy-turvy week for the Nets, who alternated wins and losses. The most recent result was a positive one in a win over Boston, though, and Brooklyn remains a legitimate playoff contender. It would be wise to reflect on how impressive that is with the way this roster was built and the absence of Caris LeVert.