The Nets were one of the biggest NBA surprises during the first part of the season. So far, it’s been one that’s been filled with its share of highs and lows. The season seemed like it could be lost once Caris LeVert, who was having a breakout year, went down with an ankle injury. While out, the team went on a seemingly endless eight game losing streak which had them 10 games under .500 in December. However, Atkinson and the gang regrouped. After a “players only” meeting, the Nets mindset and season did a complete 180. After losing their eighth in a row, the Nets reeled off seven straight wins and went 19-5 over a 24 game stretch. Although the team has gone 2-6 over their last eight games, a triple-overtime win against Cleveland put the Nets at a 30-29 record right before the All-star break.
With 24 games left on the season, the Nets currently sit in sixth place in the East and 7.5 games back of fifth place Philadelphia. They have one of the hardest remaining schedules in the league which includes a daunting seven game road trip, six of which will be played on the West Coast. That road-trip, which takes place in the middle of March, will be a good measuring stick game for Brooklyn to see how they fare against some of the league’s best. Some of the teams they’ll face on the trip include the Jazz, Kings, Trailblazers, and Lakers. The Nets will also face the Thunder on March 13th, a game which will be aired on ESPN. Of their 14 total games in March, the Nets will play nine of them on the road. Brooklyn’s last six games of the season will also be against playoff contending team. They’ll play the Celtics, Raptors, Bucks twice, Pacers and Heat. With the race for seeds 1-3 so close in the East, the Nets could cause some ruckus and definitely have an impact on the Eastern Conference standings heading into the postseason.
Brooklyn has had to deal with their fair share of injuries throughout the course of the season. Obviously, the biggest injury was to Caris LeVert earlier in the season. However, other key guys for the Nets have dealt with the injury bug on the year. Allen Crabbe missed 26 games with a knee injury. Jared Dudley has missed the last 16 games with a hamstring injury. Spencer Dinwiddie, who was in the running for Sixth Man of the Year had surgery to repair a ligament in his thumb at the end of January. He’s missed the last 10 games but should be back sometime in March.
Despite all this, the Nets are finally just about back to full strength with the exception of Dinwiddie. Dudley just recently said on his Twitter that he expects to be back in time for the team’s first game against Portland.
Yup! I’ll be back next game if everything goes according to plan.. ready to finish the year off the right way 💪🏽 https://t.co/EVF5GMKOeq
LeVert has looked good in his three games back for the Nets with just under 10 points per game and being a pest on the defensive end. In his first game back he had five steals against the Bulls. In their last game against the Cavs, Levert stuffed the stat sheet with 12 points, nine assists, one block, and seven rebounds. Allen Crabbe has played at an exceptional level since his return. In four games he is averaging 15 points while shooting over 54% from the field. He’s also shooting over 50% from three-point range as well. This is the level the Nets expected Crabbe to play at when they signed him and this level of play will be vital for the Nets down the home stretch of the season. Dudley coming back won’t be seen so much in the stat sheet but just his veteran presence on the court. Jared has played some big minutes in close games for Brooklyn and is good for a much-needed basket or momentum booster.
Continue to Prove Yourself
Although the team has just about surpassed expectations so far on the year, there is still more to prove. The Nets and their fan base at this point aren’t just satisfied with having a better record than last year. All eyes are on the playoffs and to a lesser extent showing potential free agents that this is the spot they should bring their talents to next season. Being over seven games out of the fifth spot it would be an almost miraculous feat if the Nets were to rise to that spot. However, they shouldn’t take being in the sixth spot too lightly. Sitting behind them are the Hornets, Pistons, Heat, and Magic. All teams that could get on a mini hot streak at any point. Brooklyn will play the Hornets two more times, the Pistons once and the Heat on the final game of the season. The Nets have had success against these teams but they have all been fairly close contests.
D’Angelo Russell will need to continue his All-Star caliber play to keep the Nets steady until Dinwiddie can come back. Role players such as Shabazz Napier, Joe Harris, and Ed Davis have all been big for the Nets during the first half of the season and will need to keep bringing that level of play and intensity to the remaining 24 games. DeMarre Carroll is another guy who has stepped up as of late and gives a really good boost off the bench. The team has looked shaky as of late but that might have just been due to fatigue and the grind of the season. The next 24 games will be huge not only for the Nets season this year but for the direction and outlook of the franchise for the upcoming years. Who would’ve thought that in just three years since taking over, Sean Mark’s Nets would be a playoff team?