The Brooklyn Nets (19-59), 10-10 since the start of March and undefeated in April (3-0), have the chance to play the role of spoiler (to perfection) over the final four games of the 2016-17 regular season.
What seemed like a foregone conclusion at the All-Star break (a last-place finish) is no longer a given for Brooklyn. Four more wins to close the campaign may result in an escape from the basement, as the Suns (22-57) and Lakers (23-55) aren’t likely to win another game this year.
Though the Nets finishing the regular season on a seven-game winning streak is a highly improbable idea, Brooklyn boasts a much less miserable record of 12-21 with Jeremy Lin in the lineup. That’s still bad, but it’s on pace for 29.8 wins over a full season, which would have been considered a pretty good year based on preseason expectations. The Nets will continue to feel the pain of the past for at least the next couple years, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t begun building something meaningful. As Haley O’Shaughnessy wrote in her recent piece, Brooklyn’s modernized offense, which focuses on taking lots of outside shots, has helped the Nets transform themselves into something that resembles an actual NBA team.
Among the top 11 teams in the Eastern Conference, the Cleveland Cavaliers are 10-10 since the beginning of March, the Atlanta Hawks 6-12, Chicago Bulls 8-10, Indiana Pacers 7-11, and Detroit Pistons 6-12. LeBron’s domination of the Celtics last night put to bed most of the concerns about the defending champions, but the recent struggles must be disappointing for the others, each of whom has fallen apart when they needed to play their best basketball.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s Tuesday drubbing (141-118) of the scrappy but injury-plagued Sixers was an impressive offensive onslaught. 81 first-half points, including 12 treys. The fan frantically waving a sign that read “2027 Eastern Conference Playoff Preview” might have been onto something.
Rising rookie Caris LeVert had seven points (3-5 FG, 1-3 3Pt) and seven dimes in 19 minutes. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson showed off some scintillating moves in the post. Spencer Dinwiddie did damage. Former Sixer K.J. McDaniels got in on the fun as well. Eight Nets (Lin, Lopez, Hollis-Jefferson, Foye, Dinwiddie, Goodwin, Kilpatrick, McDaniels) hit double figures in scoring, and the team dished out a whopping 36 assists.
Of Brooklyn’s remaining games (@Orlando 4/6, vs. Chicago 4/8, @Boston 4/10, @Chicago 4/12), only the Magic have nothing much to gain by winning. At 38-40, the Bulls are fighting for one of the final playoff spots in the East, while the Celtics will want to protect their ping-pong balls if the Nets keep up their winning ways heading into Monday’s matchup.
Brooklyn is mining the D-League, acquiring upside players who’ve fallen out of the rotation on other teams, and drafting gems late in the first round. Another base hit in the first round of a deep 2017 draft class could signal reason for renewed optimism.