Asked about returning home, Kenny Atkinson was the first to admit the Nets need to get back in their own beds after a 17-day hiatus.
“We gotta re-charge our batteries.”
It was the seventh and final game of a brutal seven-game road trip, one the Nets have to look back on with some regret. The Nets went 2-5 on the trip with most nights ending in disappointment; two nights ending in jubilation.
Given the schedule, 2-5 isn’t as bad as it could’ve been.
They faced six teams with a .500 or better record. Now, that they’re home again, things aren’t getting easier as they close out the season. The Nets currently own the seventh seed with one game separating them and the ninth seed Magic — with whom they own the tie-break.
According to Brian Lewis, Steven Adams, Rudy Gobert, Montrezl Harrell, Nemanja Bjelica, JaVale McGee and Jusuf Nurkic combined to average 24.6 points and 13.3 rebounds and 59.5 percent shooting on the seven-game trip.
It’s just a telling stat that exploits Brooklyn’s defensive nightmares.
Here’s a quick recap of the trip:
- Game One: Oklahoma City Thunder. The Nets led by as many as 17 in this one, but Oklahoma City made adjustments at half and exploited the paint, outscoring Brooklyn 38-26 in the third quarter and 66-48 in the second half. It was another big night for Russell Westbrook and Paul George, and yet another game in which the Nets squandered a double digit lead.
- Game Two: Utah Jazz. This one was a lost cause from the start. The second Rudy Gobert got involved defensively, the Nets froze up and never recovered. On to the next one.
- Game Three: Los Angeles Clippers. Yet another game in which the Nets took over early and had an opportunity to run away with it. They owned a 19-point lead, which was then erased no more than seven minutes later. They trailed by 10 with 1:02 left and made an improbable 10-0 run in the next 56 seconds. With 5.3 seconds left and Clippers’ ball, Lou Williams hit a deep three as time expired. The comeback was great and all, but it was an opportunity that vanished in the span of minutes.
- Game Four: Sacramento Kings. Perhaps the most incredible game of the year, and now one they’re looking back on and praising the Basketball Gods. The Nets played horribly all throughout the first three quarters. They trailed by 28 with a minute left in the third, and made an improbable comeback behind 27-fourth quarter points from D’Angelo Russell, 44 on the night. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson came up with the game’s biggest stop and then the game-winning shot as time expired. Phew.
- Game Five: Los Angeles Lakers. D’Angelo Russell’s “revenge game”. Only, it wasn’t very exciting. The Nets barely got the win over the sinking Lakers, whom they knocked out with the win. But hey, a win is a win and the Nets stole two in a row. One more win and this would’ve been considered a great success.
- Gave Six: Portland Trail Blazers. The Nets can only hope they aren’t looking back at a game like this asking, “What if?”. They outplayed the McCollum-less Trail Blazers and even had possession and a one-point lead with five seconds left in the game. D’Angelo Russell lost the ball to Seth Curry, who then sent the game to overtime at the free throw line. Both Ed Davis and Jarrett Allen fouled out and the Nets were scrapping with Portland’s bigs. It resulted in a disappointing loss in two overtimes — a game in which they missed 13 free throws.
- Game Seven: Philadelphia 76ers. Back on the East coast... but exhausted. The Nets simply didn’t have it in this one. They fell down 24-11 in the first quarter following a 14-point first quarter outburst from Joel Embiid. The Nets fought all the way back and cut the deficit to six in the fourth quarter, but they couldn’t come up with enough stops down the stretch. Sound familiar? It was a 13-point loss to cap off a pretty disappointing road trip.
At 38-38, the final six games will determine whether this team belongs in the playoffs or not. They’ll face Boston, Milwaukee (2x), Toronto, Indiana and Miami. Most Nets’ players have never been in this position or even close for that matter.
D’Angelo Russell was asked if the Nets feel the pressure.
“S---, a lot, especially if we’re not winning any and we’re losing our way out of the playoff race. It can easily be that, so it’s a lot of pressure.”
When you take a step back and think where the Nets were before the season started, it’s incredible to fathom they’re in this position with six games left. Nobody expected this. Not even Kenny Atkinson, who explained to reporters that the leaps happened quicker than he ever anticipated.
But, here we are.
The coaching staff/front office has gotten them to a point where the progress they’ve made is enough to support their credentials. However for them — their culture — finishing what they started would be enormous for an up-and-coming team like the Nets.
Make no mistake: They know they’ve exceeded expectations, but nobody will be celebrating a 10-12 game improvement if they’re watching the playoffs on TV.
These guys have all been working towards a goal. They don’t view this as a one year process. Atkinson and the coaching staff sees this as a three-year ongoing process, and the goal is clear with the playoffs so close.
Now, it’s time they see fruit of their labor.
“We came this far & if we don’t make the playoffs it’s definitely a letdown. We’re all trying to get there. That’s our goal. If we don’t make it I know personally I’ll be devastated,” Ed Davis said.