I don’t want to be pessimistic. I don’t want the Nets to miss the playoffs after being as close as they are. It would be a complete upset if they don’t see game time come mid-April. But, there is still a chance it happens, so don’t be so high on postseason ball around Brooklyn.
There are still seven games remaining on the Nets’ schedule and the team sits sixth in the East standings at the time of this writing. The final run, if we are honest, looks horrendous for Brooklyn. Next up, the 76ers in Philly. That will be followed by a three game home stint in which the Nets will host Boston, Milwaukee, and Toronto. Then, trips to visit the Bucks and the Pacers, and finally a season-ending home game against Miami.
If you have followed the 2019 NBA season even slightly, all of those names (maybe the Heat escape your awareness, although they shouldn’t) must ring a bell in your brain. Let’s break things down a little.
Milwaukee is NBA’s best team. They are almost guaranteed to finish with the best record in the entire league, boasting a 56-19 record so far. Toronto is also having an otherworldly season by sitting at 52-23. Those two teams are definitely on their own ground and would give a tough out to anyone.
Philadelphia is currently 3rd in the East at 47-27, having a .635 winning percentage. They are out of contention for the top two spots but battling Indiana and Boston to keep that third slot.
Indiana sits just behind Philadelphia at 45-29 (.608 winning percentage), just two games separating the Pacers from the 76ers. The reward of getting the 3rd seed instead of the 4th would be facing one of the “best-of-the-worst” instead of the Celtics on the first round.
Boston itself is in the fifth spot right now. They have a 44-31 record (.587 winning percentage) and are only 1.5 games behind Indiana, trying to at least get home court advantage of the first round, if not straight snatching the 3rd seed out from Philadelphia, although that looks much harder.
Maybe the most interesting of the teams remaining on Brooklyn’s schedule, though, is the aforementioned Miami Heat. Don’t forget about Miami for these next couple of weeks if you hadn’t been paying attention to them before, because they can be key. Although currently out of the playoff picture by half a game behind Orlando and one game off Detroit, Miami can get into the playoffs as easily as any of those two teams and even Brooklyn. The distance between the Nets and the Heat is only 1.5 games, and even Charlotte is just two games behind Brooklyn on the standings.
Given the Nets’ remaining opponents, it is not a stretch to think they can ultimately miss the playoffs. But, would that case be that bad for the franchise?
Of course, everybody wants the team they root for featured in the postseason. Even more, this Brooklyn iteration looks like they truly deserve it. No one thought the Nets would be where they are now at the end of March with less than ten games to play. Coming off a season in 2018 that saw Brooklyn win 28 games, and despite the fact they brought some pieces in the summer (namely Kurucs, Faried, Davis, and Napier), things weren’t looking that good for this team back in October.
Not going to name names, but some outlets referred to this Nets’ team as “not good, but maybe mediocre.” Or were saying things like “the NBA felt like it had 29 teams, and then the Nets”. Well, things look a little different now.
The point is, though, that such low expectations play into Brooklyn’s favor now. The Nets weren’t expected to improve much over what they did in 2018, yet they are on the verge of making their way to the playoffs, and not just as the last entrant. They have a legitimate chance to get stay put at the sixth seed and face either Philly, Indiana or Boston, thus avoiding the more feared Bucks and Raps.
One of the main points everybody demanded from Brooklyn was player development. I think that is a clearly checked point in the Nets’ to-do list for the season. And they did it with some margin. LeVert, Allen, Spencer, and the rest of the roster has stepped up, improved on a weekly basis and become a much stronger unit. Russell is the guy Magic never thought he would become. The foundation is in place and can’t look better.
For the future, starting with the most immediate steps to take, it doesn’t feel like missing on the postseason will affect D’Angelo Russell decision of re-signing with Brooklyn, or put head coach Atkinson in a risky position going forward. Both have grown Nets roots during the past few months and not achieving something practically no one thought could happen won’t be a problem. If anything, it would make them come back with a chip on their shoulders and fighting for revenge to get what others take from them this season.
Free agency shouldn’t be affected by that potential blunder, either. Upcoming available players, even those at the top-tier such as Durant, Irving, Butler, Kemba or Kawhi, will see Brooklyn as a team just short one or two legit pieces from contending or at least making a deep playoff run. They could be that piece, so it’ll be up to them to make the decision to join the franchise and make that improvement possible.
The draft wouldn’t change would Brooklyn miss the postseason. Lottery or not, we all know what this front office is capable of and what they have gotten through drafting means during the past few seasons. It doesn’t matter if they are two or three spots up or down the order. Drafting is a crapshoot, yes, but the scouts and staff at the helm know what they are doing and I would never discard the Nets getting another gem in the 12th-18th range.
That is the future that missing the playoffs would probably bring to Brooklyn. Doesn’t sound that bad to my ears, in all honesty.
The best of all, though, is that in just a few days time we might able to laugh at this text, because the Nets would have already locked a place in the postseason and we could forget about this and focus on what we have not seen since 2015, which will be a Brooklyn team battling for the chip.