Feast or famine. Celebrate or sulk. They both describe the streakiness of the Brooklyn Nets this season.
They overachieved early. Then, Caris LeVert got hurt.
They lost eight straight games and fell to 8-18 (same as the Knicks). Then, they won seven straight and 18 of 23, caressing the sixth seed.
Spencer Dinwiddie got injured. Then, they lost 10 of the next 15 games.
Current day, they’ve won three straight.
... The rest of the script is to be written.
The Brooklyn Nets are 35-33. They’re less than a ½ game from the six seed and four games ahead of the nine-seed Orlando Magic. Following a matchup against the six-seed Detroit Pistons on Monday, Brooklyn will go on a seven-game, 16-day road-trip. Of the 14 games remaining, 12 are against teams above .500.
“I would say you’re ahead of schedule,” Kenny Atkinson said recently when he was asked how significant it would be if the Nets made the playoffs. “That’s a darn good thing. With the schedule coming, it’s going to be tooth and nail.”
“We’re not looking ahead at the schedule and saying this stretch means something different than any other stretch,” Spencer Dinwiddie said. “It’s the teams you’re directly fighting with… those mean more.”
The Nets came into the season with plenty of options. They had their own draft pick for the first time since 2013. It would’ve been so easy to tank, but the Nets wanted to play hard, improve and evaluate where they stood. They weren’t going to stop playing hard, but if the losing continued, it might have opened up more time for some of the younger players.
That’s why 8-18 was such a weird phase. I talked to a team insider and asked if they were deflated following an eighth straight loss. “Deflated? Nah. We got a game in two days.”
Something so simple, yet so important. Staying the course, staying positive for one thing, but understanding this is a marathon, not a race ... 82 games is a long season. And so, the winning started to happen and the culture in Brooklyn began to blossom. Four players represented them in different events at All-Star Weekend. National media started paying attention and giving them credit.
Playoffs were/are in the picture, as are free agents.
But the future can wait. Kenny Atkinson’s motto this season is, “Take everything game by game.” Atkinson, along with most of the players on the Nets, have never been in this position. They have the ability to make the playoffs and show the NBA that they’ve arrived.
”Just looking at the Nets; 28 to 38, that would be huge...It’s hard to improve in this league,” Atkinson said. “That’s what I look at. At the end of the season I want to look where did we go from that 28. Is it 41? That would be fantastic.”
Indeed. The improvements they’ve seen have been fantastic, but the Nets have committed to a common goal and that’s to make the playoffs. Beyond that, finishing short of the playoffs means they would find themselves smack in the middle of NBA purgatory. No lottery pick. No playoffs.
Dinwiddie doesn’t lack confidence.
“We want to be an 82-0 type of team. We want to be a championship team… Every challenge in the NBA has its unique circumstances, but we’re not going to do this and make excuses.”
The upcoming road-trip includes six of seven teams above .500. The Nets are 15-17 on the road and 10-18 against teams that are .500 or better. Perhaps the most important thing is that they’re 4-5 against the seven teams on the trip.
There’s no telling what will happen. The stats don’t give a clear view as to how this is going to go. It’s all slightly below average, but it isn’t enough to draw any conclusions. It’s a great representation of their season in the sense that it’s totally unpredictable.
Here’s the reality of the situation: The Brooklyn Nets are an above. 500 team and completely healthy. There’s no reason to believe that they can’t rise above and win enough games to make the playoffs. They have a comfortable cushion, they just need to keep their heads above water.
And what if they exceed expectations as they have all season? They’ll go into the playoffs battle tested with momentum, having defeated some of the best teams in the league. And oh yeah, they are playing the kids!
What happens during this final stretch is the next chapter in the book of Brooklyn’s 2018-2019 season.
The question is, will it be another chapter, or will it be the end?
- ‘The type of coach you want to play for’: How Kenny Atkinson has transformed the culture in Brooklyn - Michael Scotto - The Athletic New York