Brooklyn passed a critical test

Brooklyn has passed a critical portion of their schedule. And the characterization of passed is intentional. This is a pass/fail system. They didn’t get an A, and they were some lucky bounces away from failing.

After collectively deciding to no-show against the Wizards in late February, the Nets had a six game stretch ahead of them that was paramount to their playoff chances. The ensuing games after the loss to Washington were against Charlotte, in Miami, against Dallas, against Cleveland, in Atlanta, and against Detroit.

Including the loss to the Wizards, that seven game stretch featured seven opponents all under .500, with four opponents being in direct competition with Brooklyn for playoff seeding in the East. The Nets passed the seven game test. Survived is perhaps even more appropriate a designation.

Brooklyn dropped the first three games before rebounding to win the back four. Even the four wins were bi-polar. The Nets obliterated both the Mavericks and Pistons, but barely beat the Cavs and the Hawks. There must be something about the way the Cavs match up with Brooklyn.

Brooklyn came out of the stretch three games above .500 at 36-33. More importantly, they had a comfortable cushion on the 9 seed in the East. Their playoff odds stood at 89%.

Let’s take a look at some lessons learned from this seven game experience.

Brooklyn is erratic

The game before the dud against Washington, Brooklyn secured an unexpected road win over the Spurs by 16 points. They then turned around and got creamed at home against the Wizards. And such is the Nets season.

As previously stated, in the last four games of this seven game stretch, Brooklyn destroyed Dallas and Detroit, while squeaking out wins against Cleveland and Atlanta. The Nets beat the Mavs and Pistons by a combined 67 points. And one game isn’t jacking up the total point spread either. They beat Dallas by 37 and Detroit by 28. That is domination.

The middle two games were a different story. The six point margin of victory against the Cavs was achieved by winning the 4th quarter by 11 points. That’s right, Brooklyn entered the 4th quarter of a home game against Cleveland down 5. They eventually took care of business, but why did it take so long?

While the Hawks have been feisty lately, a loss to Atlanta isn’t one a team can afford when gunning for a playoff birth. With three minutes to go the Nets found themselves down 5. Again, to their credit, they survived with a two point victory. Vince Carter missed a three-point attempt with 1.2 seconds left for Brooklyn to hang on. They got the job done, but what took so long?

Speaking of which, they love close games

On the season, the Nets have appeared in 38 clutch games. So, more than half their games have featured clutch play. In terms of minutes, the team has logged 157 clutch minutes this year, tops in the league as of this writing.

In those games their point differential is -0.1, which is their exact mark on the season. Their net rating in clutch minutes is -0.9, which is below their -0.1 season mark. It’s a 157 minute sample, so not too much can be learned from these numbers.

However, in the 38 clutch games, the team is 21-17. Given how close the scoring margins are on average, it would appear the Nets are getting more lucky than not in these tight games.

While their net rating and point differential each rank 14th in the league, they’re 20th in SRS, suggesting they’re not as good as their record.

Brooklyn Cannot Defend Athleticism

We’ve previously discussed wing/perimeter defense is one of the Nets’ biggest weaknesses as a team. While a glaring area of concern, in more broad terms Brooklyn has a complete inability to defend athleticism.

Box score counting isn’t exactly the best practice, but during this seven game stretch the Nets allowed the following stat lines:

  • Bradley Beal – 31 points on 12/22 shooting
  • Kemba Walker – 25 points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, 4 steals
  • Derrick Jones Jr. – 18 points on 7/10 shooting
  • Larry Nance Jr. – 17 points on 6/10 shooting, 10 rebounds, 4 steals
  • John Collins – 33 points on 13/20 shooting, 19 rebounds

(For anyone outraged an Derrick Jones Jr. being included amongst these other names, the dude is pretty athletic)

For good measure, in their most recent loss to the Thunder, Paul George had 25 points and 9 rebounds, while Russell Westbrook had a triple double with 31 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Additionally, in the game against the Hawks, Trae Young attempted 16 free throws. This is a serious, serious issue as the Nets look to lock up a playoff spot at the end of the season.

None of This Builds Confidence

In reality, Brooklyn is playing with house money. This was supposed to be another lottery bound season, so making the playoffs in any capacity is a massive overachievement against expectations.

But the inconsistency, constant close games, and an inability to defend the most athletic players is cause for alarm. Just because they make the playoffs doesn’t mean they’re really a playoff team. If they are unable to draw the Pacers in the first round, the Nets are likely looking at a sweep at the hands of Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia, or Boston, with a 5 game series being the best case scenario.

Which foreshadows grave disappointment to close out the regular season. As mentioned above, Brooklyn lost its most recent game to the Thunder. To finish out the year the Nets have to play 8 of their 12 remaining games on the road. And the schedule is a gauntlet:

At Utah, at Los Angeles (Clippers), at Sacramento, at Los Angeles (Lakers), at Portland, at Philadelphia, against Boston, against Milwaukee, against Toronto, at Milwaukee, at Indiana, against Miami.

That is an absolutely brutal stretch of games. The only game in which Brooklyn will be favored is the final game of the season against the Heat. There is a potential doomsday scenario where the Nets absolutely bomb this part of the season and end up missing the playoffs. It is in the realm of possibility that the last game of the season, Brooklyn vs. Miami, is a winner-gets-the-8-seed-loser-goes-home game.

Thank goodness the Nets passed their test ahead of the final 12 games.

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