Multiple times in the past few weeks, it’s appeared the Brooklyn Nets were done for. After starting March with an improbable win over the Golden State Warriors, the Nets dropped their next five contests. Just as they started to turn the corner, the Nets dropped a huge game to the Boston Celtics at home. But with a win over the also playoff-hungry Charlotte Hornets, the Nets are in for a playoff push in the season’s final weeks.
The Brooklyn Nets have the talent and skill to make the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference. However, on multiple occasions they have blown pivotal head-to head match-ups against fellow playoff competitors.
The Nets have hovered in or around the East’s eighth seed for months now, grabbing it at points in the past month. But uncertainty began to set in after a five game losing streak which was immediately preceded by a win over the NBA-best Golden State Warriors. This kind of inconsistency is what’s held the Nets back so far from making a playoff push.
Following this five game skid and blow to the Nets hopes at extending their season, they quietly won four of their next five games, dropping only an expected loss against the Cleveland Cavaliers. Sure, some of these wins came against the lowly Philadelphia 76’ers and Minnesota Timberwolves, but wins over the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks could prove integral in the Nets playoff destiny.
The next game was quite possibly the Nets most important game of the season. Not because of the talent level of the opposition, but the many playoff implications it brought. A win over the Boston Celtics would’ve both weakened a direct competitor for the eighth seed as well as give the Nets a tiebreaker over Boston, something that would come in handy in such a tight race.
Instead, the Nets only played to their full potential for a single quarter on their homecourt. The Celtics dominated the final three quarters en route to a 110-91 win.
The Celtics have been surging since the acquisition of point guard Isaiah Thomas, and currently hold the East’s final playoff spot. A head-to-head win over Boston would’ve done wonders for the Nets playoff odds, and they would currently be in the driver’s seat for the eighth seed had they won.
After dropping such a pivotal matchup, the Nets next game against the Charlotte Hornets became a virtual must-win. The Nets didn’t show up at home against the Hornets earlier this month, dropping the previous game 115-91 on March 4. Down four points at halftime, the Nets were ultimately able to squeak out a 91-88 win in Charlotte.
The win also gives the Nets an all important head-to-head tiebreaker over the Hornets, as the Nets won two of the three matchups during the season.
Now, with 12 games left to play, the Nets trail the Indiana Pacers and Boston Celtics by only half a game in the race for the postseason. The Nets are also tied with the Hornets and only trail the Miami Heat by 2.5 games, who are no lock to make the playoffs.
The Nets are very much in control of their own playoff destiny, and need a strong final stretch to qualify for the postseason.
Most important to the Nets will be winning games against inferior or equal opponents. The Nets next game is against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have been firing on all cylinders as of late. A win would here would be excellent, but is by no means expected or necessary. The following three games should all be wins for the Nets: home contests against the Indiana Pacers and Los Angeles Lakers and a road game against the New York Knicks.
The Knicks and Lakers are inferior competition, and the Nets simply need to win these easy games. The Pacers should prove a more formidable matchup, and may have Paul George on hand for the March 31 game. But if the Nets are truly headed for the playoffs they must defeat the Pacers to bury an opponent while also helping themselves.
Over the final nine games the Nets will meet with the Toronto Raptors, Atlanta Hawks (twice), Portland Trailblazers, Washington Wizards, Milwaukee Bucks, Chicago Bulls and Orlando Magic.
This could be a brutal final stretch for the Nets and one that could ultimately doom them. If the Nets get buried consistently by the Cavaliers, Hawks, Raptors, Trailblazers and Bulls, the playoffs may quickly fall out of sight.
So in addition to beating the the aforementioned teams in the first three game stretch, the Nets will need to be some superior opponents. The Nets have done this before, with recent wins over the Warriors, Clippers, and Mavericks coming to mind.
Beating the slightly reeling Atlanta Hawks at least once is definitely possible, and the Nets could definitely squeak out a couple wins over teams like the Bucks, Wizards, Raptors, and Bulls.
Winning a few easy games with kickstart the Nets playoff run, but Brooklyn will also need to win some unfavorable matchups to qualify for the postseason. Not owning their own first round pick, making the playoffs is the only favorable outcome to end the Nets 2014-2015 season, even if a series win is improbable.
Instrumental to the Nets ultimate fate could be big man Brook Lopez. Lopez has scored over 30 points in three of the Nets last four contests, and has been the teams best offensive option on a nightly basis. Also key to the team’s success will be Thaddeus Young, a player who’s given good contributions to Brooklyn and could be a key player in the team’s future. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson will also need to produce, as the team’s highest paid players.
These players, as well as Mason Plumlee, Jarrett Jack, Markel Brown and more, hold Brooklyn’s playoff fate in their hands. The players need to give their all for twelve straight games to cap off the season, and can’t afford to not show up for a given quarter, half, or even game. Coach Lionell Hollins needs to coach his players to play full 48 minute games and be less susceptible to big runs by the opposition.
If the Nets can do all this, they have a great shot to make the playoffs. And hey, with a little bit of luck, maybe even a series win.