Fresh off a win over the league-best Golden State Warriors, the Brooklyn Nets laid an absolute goose egg in the following game, losing 115-91 to the Charlotte Hornets. The head-to-head loss against a fellow competing playoff team hurts, and could be a bad omen for the Nets for the rest of the season.
The Nets returned home on Monday night after a 3-5 road trip to face the Golden State Warriors, owners of an insane 46-11 record at the time. To make matters worse, the Barclays Center seemed to turn on the Nets, routinely cheering on the Warriors and showering opposing point guard Steph Curry with MVP chants.
With the odds stacked against them, the Nets jumped out to a decisive 33-23 lead after the first quarter and held on for a 110-108 win, narrowly avoiding overtime on a last second Curry layup attempt. The game will be remembered, and rightfully so, for Jarrett Jack’s game-winning shot, a feat he has achieved once before this season. In fact, Jack’s clutch gene is supported by his league leading 6-6 shooting in the final 30 seconds of the fourth quarter/overtime with the score within one.
Just because Jack sealed the game with a unlikely, clutch shot didn’t mean the Nets win was lucky. Brooklyn played high quality basketball for 48 minutes, something they are capable of doing any given night. Brook Lopez and Deron Williams led the Nets charge with 26 and 22 points, respectively. Still not a starter, Thaddeus Young added 14 points on 2-3 three point shooting. The Nets were also able to limit Klay Thompson to 7 points on 3-of-17 shooting.
The Nets played a great game against the Warriors, going toe to toe with the league’s best team right until the final seconds. After losing some very close games, a gritty win over the Warriors seemed like a good sign for the Nets moving forward.
Fast forward one night, and the Nets found themselves down 35-15 to the Charlotte Hornets at the end of the first quarter, and would eventually go on to lose 115-91. Both entering the game at 25-33, this was a key matchup in determining the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Nets can still easily make the playoffs, but losing to the Hornets certainly didn’t do them any favors.
Where did things go wrong for the Nets? Slow starts have been an Achilles heel throughout the season, and the Hornets taking a 29-8 lead before the end of the opening quarter is a prime example of this. It doesn’t help that the Nets allowed six Hornets players to score in double figures, or that Jack, Joe Johnson, and Brook Lopez all had putrid shooting nights.
These kind of games are destined to happen, but they’ve been far too frequent and random for the Nets this season. In the past two months, the Nets have beaten the likes of the Golden State Warriors, Dallas Mavericks, and Los Angeles Clippers, while dropping games against the Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers, and Boston Celtics.
If the Nets wish to make the playoffs, which they should as tanking isn’t an option, they need to start by beating weaker teams. With the surging Indiana Pacers going 8-2 in their last 10 games and still expecting a Paul George return soon, the Nets have slipped to 10th in the Eastern Conference.
The Nets remaining schedule features some very strong teams as well as some bottom-feeders. Brooklyn needs to capitalize on weaker opponents to nab the Eastern Conference’s 8th seed. The rest of the season breaks down like this:
- Elite Teams (38+ Wins): 6
- Good Teams (30-37 Wins): 5
- Mediocre Teams (20-29 Wins): 6
- Bad Teams (0-19 Wins): 5
Obviously this doesn’t account for surging teams or teams that acquired talent at the trade deadline, but it’s a rough indicator on how the rest of the Nets season shapes up. The 11 games against mediocre and bad teams should at least yield the Nets nine wins. Sadly, with the inconsistency displayed lately the Nets may drop some very winnable games.
Assuming the Nets do go 9-2 in these 11 games, that will leave 10 games against stiffer competition. If the Nets can squeak out three or four wins, something they are more than capable of, they could finish out the season on a 12-9 note. This would leave the Nets with a 37-45 record.
Will this be enough to sneak into the Eastern Conference playoffs? Last year’s 8th seed, the Atlanta Hawks, qualified with a 38-44 record. After the top six there’s a huge dropoff in the Eastern Conference this year, and 37 wins should be just enough.
But if the Nets can’t consistently beat inferior teams, they’re tougher matchups will doom them, and they will not make the playoffs this year.