If ever there were an NBA team that doesn’t deserve to be in the playoffs — and one that figures to evaporate quickly from the postseason — it is the infuriating, erratic, underachieving, 38-44 Brooklyn Nets.
It is a team lacking spirit, camaraderie and consistency. If you expected these teammates to hang out together in the locker room after their 101-88 victory over Orlando Wednesday night to watch the Pacers-Grizzlies game that would decide their fate, you would be reasonable — but dead wrong. Only Bojan Bogdanovic expressed any desire to stay at the arena to monitor the game. Joe Johnson told reporters he wasn’t even planning to watch it at all. The Nets headed out from Barclays Center in their own separate directions, much as they played all season.
Then again, like old age, qualifying for the playoffs is better than the alternative, a premature end. By somehow squeaking into the eighth slot on the final night of the regular season, by improving their home record to a woeful 19-22, the Nets avoided the sort of humiliating finish that appeared their destiny for much of 2015. They muffled Paul Pierce a bit and denied their first-round opponent, Atlanta, the pleasure of a lottery pick, which would have been a considerable embarrassment to Billy King.
After all the bad vibes this season, the Nets edged out the pluckier Pacers on the head-to-head tiebreaker, which tells you as much about the Eastern Conference as anything. The Nets needed the West to do the dirty work for them. While the Nets were finishing off the Magic, the Grizzlies were in Memphis on an 18-2 run in the second quarter that eventually doomed the Pacers.
“I hope that Grizzlies play with a bit of ferocity and we’ll have a chance to play against Hawks,” Bogdanovic told the YES Network, after scoring 28 points to rescue the Nets.
There was ferocity, particularly from Marc Gasol. The Grizzlies are a far better team than both Indiana and Brooklyn. The only question was whether they would bother to try. As it turned out, once the Spurs lost, home-court advantage in the first round was up for grabs, giving Memphis reason to hustle.
This had not been a textbook playoff run by Brooklyn. When the Nets required just a couple of victories down the stretch to maintain control of the race, they shot 32% against Milwaukee, 37% against Chicago. They were blown out by a combined 50 points. You wanted to slap them awake — or just slap them.
“We had a chance to kick it into overdrive, but we kind of dropped the ball,” Thaddeus Young said.
How did they mess up? Let us count the ways: There was the triple-overtime loss on Nov. 19 to Milwaukee, after Brandon Knight buried the tying three-pointer in the second OT.
There was the 90-88 loss in Brooklyn on Jan. 9 to the slumping Sixers, after the Nets blew a 13-point lead and then allowed Michael Carter-Williams the clinching dunk with three seconds left.
There was another overtime loss at home to Toronto, a seventh straight loss in Brooklyn, to finish 3-12 in January. And there were nights when the Nets just failed to show up at all, like the game on March 4 when they were blown out, 115-91, by the Hornets.
Lionel Hollins never quite figured out how to sit slumping stars and win games at the same time. Go big? Go small? Everybody just kept taking turns being good for a few games, or periods. Mason Plumlee faded into Brook Lopez. Jarrett Jack faded into Deron Williams, who simply faded. The Nets were 2-10 combined against Boston, Milwaukee and Miami. They were 0-4 against Atlanta, a very bad omen.
“If me and Kevin (Garnett) weren’t there, that team would have folded up,” Pierce told ESPN.com this week, about his time in Brooklyn. “That team would have packed it in. We kept them going each and every day.”
We saw some of that. But the Nets lost big games last season even with Pierce and Garnett, who had become mere ghosts of themselves.
I t could be pointed out that the Hawks, now a mighty contender, were the eighth seed last season in the East with a 38-44 record, same as the Nets. The Hawks’ core players, however, were young and improving. Williams, Johnson and free agent Lopez are more likely to grow indifferent.
Blink, and you may miss the Nets’ playoff campaign. It won’t be long now before the Islanders are the best team in the building.
This entry passed through the Full-Text RSS service – if this is your content and you’re reading it on someone else’s site, please read the FAQ at fivefilters.org/content-only/faq.php#publishers.