After far exceeding expectations this season, the Brooklyn Nets are currently in line to make the postseason, but after a three game slide last week, dropping from a No. 6 seed to 7, a tough schedule facing them, and a major push by the Miami Heat, the Charlotte Hornets, the Orlando Magic and just maybe the Washington Wizards for the seventh and eighth seeded positions, the last two of the eight playoff seeds, the questions that loom are, “Has Brooklyn lost their swagger, and if so, can they get that swagger back? Can they maintain it?”
With the Detroit Pistons now the No. 6 seed, five hungry teams need the answers to be “no.”
Before defeating the Dallas Mavericks Monday night, a 127-88 blowout win at home, their largest margin of victory in Barclays Center history, the Nets made three misteps. A 125-116 home loss to the Wizards on Wednesday; a 123-112 home loss to Charlotte on Friday; and a 117-88 road loss to Miami on Saturday, losing their hold to the Detroit Pistons after winning three of four. Surprisingly, Brooklyn had held the No. 6 spot since January.
According to Rick Carlisle, the Mavericks’ head coach, “They [Brooklyn] played with a level of defensive force to start the game that helped them gain leverage initially, and throughout.” He provided confirmation of the Nets’ plan to rectify their most recent losses with better defense and better rebounding.
“I thought we defended much better tonight, and we secured rebounds,” noted the Nets’ head coach Kenny Atkinson.
“We held them to one possession, and on the other side [offense], we made shots. We were struggling to make shots before tonight, and it was nice to see the ball go through the basket. This helped our spirit.” And their win-loss totals in the standings.
He continued, “We know we’ve got a tough stretch coming up, so we need all the confidence we can get.”
Brooklyn’s spirit and confidence will need help, and all of the assistance that it can get. After Saturday’s road game against the Atlanta Hawks, they’ll face the Pistons at home Monday before embarking on a six-game west coast road trip playing four of the eight Western Conference playoff teams. The Oklahoma Thunder, the Utah Jazz, L.A Clippers and the Portland Trailblazers interspersed with the Sacramento Kings, a dangerous No. 9 seed waiting for just a bit of slippage from the West’s seventh and eighth seeds, and the Los Angeles Lakers, dangerous because they’re embarrassingly out of the playoffs with LeBron James on their roster. Brooklyn then returns to the east to play the Philadelphia 76ers. Seven tough, competitive games in total.
A key component of the Nets’ success thus far has been the play of their bench. It ranks second in points scored per game. Brooklyn’s reserves have outscored their opponents’ reserves in 50-plus games this season. A league high.