Well, losses have consequences, but not that much.
The Nets recent losses, fed by its string of injuries, have hurt its power rankings as well as its won-loss record. But surprisingly, not by much. Two pundits even jumped the Nets a place. One, Dime Magazine, dropped them six places, however.
There’s a lot this week about the Nets bad luck ... and D’Angelo Russell’s rebirth in Brooklyn.
There is one nearly unanimous selection among the pundits: The Knicks are dead last in the rankings.
As good as the Nets have been over the last two months (they rank third defensively since Jan. 1) and as bad as the nine teams behind them in the East have been, their position in the playoff picture remains tenuous. They’re banged up, they’ve lost three of their last four games (barely scoring a point per possession with non-point guards shooting 26 percent from 3-point range over that stretch), and 13 of their final 28 games (including three of their next four) are against the top 10 teams in the league. They’re 5-11 (and have lost six of their last seven) against that group, having seen their run of late-game success (six straight wins in games that were within five points in the last five minutes) come to an end in San Antonio on Thursday.
Less than two years after Magic Johnson declared he wasn’t a leader and traded him to Brooklyn, D’Angelo Russell was named an Eastern Conference All-Star reserve. Russell becomes the first player since Joe Johnson in 2014 to represent the Nets in an All-Star Game. He’s a primary factor in the Nets’ surge, posting an effective field goal percentage of 56.9 since the calendar flipped to 2019, up from 49.0 prior to New Year’s Day.
Life ain’t fair most of the time. So although D’Angelo Russell has been phenomenal this season, he’ll need to do even more for the Nets.
But if anybody is up for the challenge, it would have to be the man with iciest veins either side of the Mississippi.
This past week, Russell got to experience the cruel reality of showing out as an individual just to take a loss as a team. And the longer Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert are on the sidelines, the higher the chances are that Russell keeps experiencing weeks like this.
That is, unless he has another gear.
And if you’ve watched Russell this season, you have every reason to think he’ll find that other gear. This isn’t just about scoring more points. That would be a great start, but it’s more than that. D-Lo is going to have to take being a leader to the next level in the lead up to the All-Star break as Brooklyn gets set to face the Bucks, Nuggets, Bulls, Raptors and Cavaliers. Knowing when and when not to take over as a scorer or defer to Shabazz Napier is critical in these next two weeks. Even if the Nets can’t keep the ball rolling like they have the past two months, they can still maintain the confidence they’ve built up. Winning games goes a long way in making that happen, but so does playing together as a unit.
After starting the year with three dynamic guards who could be trusted to consistently make plays, Russell is currently the only one left standing. If he can keep the entire squad engaged and active, everything will be just fine as health improves. He transitioned from Randall Weems into T.J. Detweiler right before our eyes, and now it’s time to really prove Magic Johnson wrong and show the league not only did he let go of an All-Star, but also a true leader.
Should the Brooklyn Nets stand pat or be buyers? Brooklyn has surged into solid playoff positioning over the last two months. And while a little bit of a skid this past week has calmed things down a bit with a 1-3 record in their last four, the Nets have to feel great about where they stand. Making the playoffs makes the pitch to their free agent targets even sexier this summer. So does that mean they need to be aggressive in improving this roster at the trade deadline? Or will standing down keep their long-term goals attainable, even if it means missing a playoff berth because this slide is the start of something more severe and difficult to reverse?
They have guys like D’Angelo Russell and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to re-sign in restricted free agency this summer. They can do all that and still bring in a max free agent. Whether that ends up being Kawhi Leonard or the much more attainable and likely signing of Tobias Harris remains to be seen. But the Nets have a very thin line of flexibility this summer, unless they can move Allen Crabbe and his $18 million player option. Much like the Clippers above, the Nets have done a spectacular job of executing a difficult, patience plan for rebuilding and reshaping the roster. Don’t sacrifice seeing that plan to the end because you get thirsty for the playoffs now.
GIF ON THE BEAT: I’m a sucker for D’Angelo Russell pouring water on teammates during the postgame walk-off interview. It happens a lot.
Will Sean Marks attempt to trade one of his expiring contracts (DeMarre Carroll, Jared Dudley or Ed Davis) for draft picks or for another of his patented reclamation projects? Marks’ management of this franchise during a tough time has been remarkable.
The red-hot Nets cooled off last week, dropping three of the four games they played. However, the team did receive some good news when it was announced that D’Angelo Russell had been selected to represent the Eastern Conference in the 2019 All-Star game by the Commissioner’s office to replace Indiana’s Victor Oladipo. Russell will be the first Net to appear in an All-Star game since Joe Johnson five years ago.
The Nets have already won as many games (28) as they did last season, an achievement that should help ease the pain of losing Spencer Dinwiddie for three to six weeks following thumb surgery.
D’Angelo Russell seems fine with picking up the slack, though. He recovered from a fourth-quarter benching against Boston on Monday to post 30 points, seven assists and no turnovers in Tuesday’s 122-117 win over the Bulls. Though he still never gets to the rim or draws fouls, Russell has keyed Brooklyn’s surge into playoff position.
Since Dec. 1, the Bucks are the only East team with more wins.