Are the Brooklyn Nets Getting Back on Track?
Just last season, the Brooklyn Nets finished 44-38 in the regular season - good enough for second in the Atlantic Division and the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. In the first round of the playoffs, they faced their division foe and champion in the Toronto Raptors, and they came out of a hard-fought seven-game series with a 4-3 victory. They would go on to face the defending champion Heat and were discarded in the fifth game of an up-and-down series.
Now, after reading that, you might expect a team returning the likes of former All-Stars Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, and Kevin Garnett to be on the right track in a weak Eastern Conference. But they're not (at least yet). Yes, they probably miss the veteran presence and production that Paul Pierce - now a Washington Wizard - provided. But, they have essentially exchanged Pierce for another former All-Star in big man Brook Lopez.
So, with that being said, is it time for Brooklyn to "stand up" once again? Or is it time for Jay-Z and Nets fans to temper their expectations for their hometown squad?
Just on record alone, I'm sure you'd agree it's the latter. With an 8-9 record through the first 17 games, our projections do not like Brooklyn's chances of finishing over .500. In fact, our numbers like the Nets to finish three games under .500 at 39-42. That's five games worse than just a year ago. But have the Nets been victim to a schedule that has seen them face eight Western Conference opponents, and five of those contests taking place on the road? Not really.
The Nets have had to face off against Western Conference powers like the Warriors, Blazers, and Spurs - all on the road. They lost all three games. But, these three teams rank second, fifth, and sixth in our power rankings respectively, with an average team nERD of 72.3. That's a tough stretch for any team.
However, the Nets also lost games to the Celtics, Timberwolves, and Bucks. All three are ranked lower than the Nets in our power rankings. So, as you can see, the Nets have been consistently inconsistent to start out this season. But things have been looking up lately.
After starting off the season 4-7 through the first 11 games, the Nets have kinda sorta started to turn things around. (Not good with commitment.) There's still a lot for them to prove, but there's a lot of positive signs too. Through their last six games, the Nets are 4-2. They suffered their two losses to the Spurs and Bulls, who rank sixth and tenth in our power rankings.
On the other hand, they took care of business on the road against the inferior Thunder, Sixers, and Knicks. But what was most impressive was last night's overtime victory at home over a fully-rested Spurs team.
Even without KG (due to old age - I mean rest), the Nets, on the back of Mirza Teletovic and his 26 points, found a way to best the defending champs. And they did so despite playing in the "Battle of New York" at the Garden the night before. It was a very impressive win, and if the Nets continue to play like they have recently, they could find themselves winning more games just like that.
Everyone has been stepping up and contributing in their own ways - particularly in the last two games. Teletovic has been struggling recently but turned it around last night to give Brooklyn the scoring they needed on a night where Joe Johnson (8 points, 4-16 shooting) struggled with the length and defensive prowess of Kawhi Leonard. Speaking of Big Shot Joe, just the night before, he put his team on his back with 22 points on 7-14 shooting while also dishing out 6 dimes and grabbing 8 boards.
Before sitting out last night's contest, KG put in his work against the Knicks, grabbing 13 rebounds - 6 of those offensive - in 29 minutes. But he's not the only role player who has been doing his job. Bojan Bogdanovic, the Nets' starting shooting guard, has shot 10-21 from the field and 2-5 from three on his way to a total plus-minus of +26 in 74 minutes over the last two contests.
And then there's D-Will and Bro-Lo. It looks like they're back to form. Over his last two games, Williams is averaging 18 points while shooting an outstanding 7-13 from deep. His assist to turnover ratio of 7:1 over the last two is even more impressive. As for the big man, Lopez is averaging 19.5 points and 11.5 rebounds in the two wins. He's also added five blocks over that two-game span.
I know we're looking at a small sample size, but this is what the Nets need to do going forward. If everyone just plays their role and does their job, whether it's the scoring contribution of each player, the rebounding of KG and Lopez, or the facilitating of Deron Williams, they can beat anybody, as evidenced by their victory over the Spurs.
Now it's just up to them to continue to play like they have been and get back on track if they want to make it a second straight trip to the Eastern Conference playoffs. Is it time to stand up yet? Maybe.
Prove us wrong, Brooklyn.