The Brooklyn Nets have lost 11 of 13 games, yet still remain in the thick of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference at 18-27, only half a game behind the Charlotte Hornets. Even in the middle of this brutal stretch, the Nets have a legit shot at extending their season past April 15th.
The Nets near future may be some tough times for Brooklyn fans, but a playoff berth this season is certainly not out of the question. When healthy, the Nets still roll out a lineup of four former All-Stars, including a future Hall of Famer, and a young player with a bright future in Mason Plumlee.
Joe Johnson, battling injuries, is still a shot creator and offensive threat every possession for the Nets. Brook Lopez has been very efficient this season, even coming off the bench 14 times to put in some quality minutes. Lopez is averaging 14.7 points per game, second most on the team despite playing less minutes per game than point guards Deron Williams and Jarrett Jack.
Speaking of Williams, despite his less than stellar contract situation, he is still a quality starting point guard. He currently holds a solid 16.8 Player Efficiency Rating (PER) this season, and leads the team with a 2.7 assist to turnover ratio. Williams is currently sidelined with a rib injury, but the Nets expect to ease him back into the rotation in the coming weeks.
The Nets’ offense will gain a scorer and distributor with Williams back, and should become instantly more competitive. Point guard Jarrett Jack has been starting in Williams place, and while his play has been above average as of late, it will be even more valuable either off the bench or alongside Williams in a two point guard, smaller lineup. After the All-Star break, barring any setbacks, a healthy Deron Williams and closer to 100% Joe Johnson will allow the Nets to start winning more games.
The Nets biggest advantage, however, is that they may not need to improve all that much to reach the playoffs if the teams around them start to falter. As mentioned, the Nets are only half a game behind the Charlotte Hornets. Fresh off a stretch that saw them go 8-2, a pace they obviously won’t maintain, the Hornets lost starting point guard Kemba Walker to a knee injury that will sideline him 6-8 weeks.
Without Walker, the Hornets could easily slide back a couple games in the standings. Even the current 7th seed, the Miami Heat, could regress with recent news Dwyane Wade will be forced to sit for possibly multiple weeks with a hamstring strain. Add in the preexisting injury to Josh McRoberts, and the Heat are a much weaker team then they began the season with. The Heat are only two games ahead of the Nets, so even the 7th seed is a possibility this year, although it’s probably currently the Nets ceiling.
Can any teams catch the Nets from behind though? Their biggest threat is the Detroit Pistons, who seemed destined for greater things after the departure of Josh Smith. However, the season ending injury to point guard Brandon Jennings probably put the nail in the coffin for Detroit’s playoff hopes. The only other threat behind the Nets is the Boston Celtics, who have generally been competitive since trading Rajon Rondo, beating the Portland Trail Blazers and only losing by three to the NBA’s best, the Golden State Warriors.
Boston is an interesting team filled with young talent, and if it continues to mesh well, the Celtics may even pass the Nets in the standings. But as long as the Nets keep winning at least at their current 40% rate, they should be able to fend off the young Boston squad.
The playoffs are certainly not out of the question for the Brooklyn Nets, and fans should expect the team to rise to the 8th seed before the All-Star break. Afterwards, if Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are healthy, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Brooklyn rise to the seventh seed. Current projections would match up the Nets with the Atlanta Hawks or Toronto Raptors in the playoffs, which are actually not horrible match-ups. The Nets stayed competitive in Wednesday’s nights game in Atlanta, and it’s not uncommon for a surprisingly successful team like the Hawks to falter come playoff time. And the Nets showed last year that they can beat the Toronto Raptors in the playoffs, although Paul Pierce had a large hand in that.
Lastly, while not reliable at all to count on, most teams are one major untimely injury away from bombing in the playoffs. If the Nets play such a team, who knows what could happen.
While the Nets may be trending in the wrong direction, Brooklyn can appease a hungry fan base with their third straight postseason appearance, and if the stars align, maybe even a series win.