The Brooklyn Nets have been surging as of late, and while there are no guarantees, it’s never too early to look at the potential playoff matchups as the playoffs rapidly approach.
Winning nine of their last eleven games, the Nets seem to be peaking at just the right time behind the excellent play of Brook Lopez and resurgence in production from Deron Williams. In a few short weeks, the Nets propelled themselves from the outside of the East’s top eight seeds all the way into the seventh slot.
Mediocrity around the board also helped bolster this playoff push, as the Miami Heat who held a playoff spot most of the season are 3-7 in their last ten games in part due to the injury of star Dwyane Wade. The Boston Celtics, Charlotte Hornets, and Indiana Pacers have all won five or less games over their last ten as well. Everything is falling into place for the Nets to extend their season past April 15.
But if the Nets make the playoffs, it will be with a sub-.500 record. The Nets season would’ve been over weeks ago if they played in the Western Conference. Basically, the Nets will be very overmatched no matter who the opponent. Still, some matchups may be more favorable than others for a surprising playoff series win.
3. Cleveland Cavaliers
Scenario: Brooklyn stays put at the seventh seed, Cleveland maintain second seed
If the season were to end today, the Nets would meet LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. Fresh off an exciting 106-98 win over the Cavaliers in Brooklyn, the Nets may like their odds against Cleveland in the playoffs.
But they shouldn’t.
The Cavaliers had a rough couple days, losing to the Nets and barely edging out a win against the Philadelphia 76er’s in the following game. The Nets definitely caught the Cavaliers during a vulnerable stretch, but Cleveland has been superb the rest of the season and seem destined for at least the Conference Finals, if not the NBA Finals.
After starting the season 5-7, the Cavaliers have won 45 of their last 65 games en route to a 50-27 overall record this season, firmly holding the East’s second seed with five relatively easy games to play. The Cavaliers have also went 16-5 since the All-Star break and are basically firing on all cylinders.
The Nets have also historically struggled against LeBron James-led squads, dating back to his initial tenure in Cleveland, as well as his championship seasons in Miami.
This isn’t to say the Cavaliers can’t be beat, and the Nets recent win can’t be discredited. The Nets would put up a fight in a playoff series against James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. But ultimately the Nets would likely fall to the Cavaliers in five or six games.
Prediction: Cavaliers win in five games
2. Chicago Bulls
Scenario: Nets pass Bucks for sixth seed, or Bulls pass Cavaliers for second seed
The Chicago Bulls are the Nets most unlikely playoff foe, simply because there’s few games left to support drastic seed movement. The Bulls are led by a strong core of Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah and Pau Gasol. And reinforcements appear to be on the way in the form of point guard Derrick Rose.
Rose alone won’t make the Bulls unbeatable, but Chicago is a very well-rounded team that could give the Nets trouble in a playoff series. The strong frontcourt of Noah and Gasol could neutralize the excellent play of Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young. Jimmy Butler is also a very strong two way player that could give the Nets fits on offense and defense.
The current Bulls team could beat the Nets in a playoff series, so anything the return of Rose may add is just a bonus.
Of course, the Nets and Bulls met two years ago in the first round of the playoffs, with the Bulls narrowly dispatching the Nets in seven games. That Nets team still had Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, while the Bulls have seemingly gotten better by dumping Carlos Boozer for Gasol, as well as the development of Butler into a premier player.
One strength the Nets could play to is their road record, which is better than their home record. Of these three potential matchups, Chicago has the worst home mark at 25-14. This is still a good record, but presents the best oppurtunity for the Nets to steal some road games.
And the Nets may do just that. While the Bulls may also be destined for greater things than the first round, a long series, perhaps even a repeat of their seven game set, is very possible.
Prediction: Bulls win in seven games
1. Atlanta Hawks
Scenario: Hawks have clinched top seed, Nets slide to eighth seed
The 57-19 Atlanta Hawks have the second-best record in the NBA, four All-Stars, and have been cruising the Eastern Conference’s top record. On top of all that, they’ve beaten the Nets three times this season, most recently a 131-99 beatdown on April 4.
But they still represent the best chance the Nets have at winning a playoff series.
This would be less about the Nets flat-out beating the Hawks, and more about a surprisingly great team collapsing down the stretch.
Since March 18, as the Hawks lost a highly anticipated game against the Golden State Warriors, the Hawks have gone 4-5. Sure, the Warriors are the NBA’s top team and the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs are no slouches either. But Atlanta also dropped games against the lowly Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons.
The Hawks have the makeup of a team that will sputter down the stretch. Expected to make the playoffs as they usually do, the Hawks took the league by storm en route to their top spot in the East. The Hawks season was highlighted by their 19 game win streak, but again have dropped five of their last nine games.
In the past three seasons, the Hawks have dropped their opening playoff series all three times. Dating back seven seasons, the Hawks have went 3-7 in playoff series overall. Among these first round series, the Hawks have reached seven games a staggering four times, as well as six games the other three times.
What this all means if the Hawks both struggle to put away series and have some early playoff exits. Put together with the Hawks slightly unlikely ascent to the East’s best record, the Hawks may be vulnerable to another quick exit.
The Nets can beat the Hawks, even though they haven’t in their three previous matchups. The Nets will have one final chance to tune themselves for a potential matchup as the teams meet April 8 in Brooklyn.
This is the biggest stretch and may be a leap of faith, but the Nets have the tools and the Hawks have the baggage to lead to a surprising first round playoff result.
Prediction: Nets win in seven games