The Nets discovered success by means of an arduous highway journey. The upcoming homestand, nonetheless, initiatives as lower than variety.
After wrapping their five-game highway journey in Oklahoma City on Tuesday — a stretch that additionally featured pit stops in Houston, Milwaukee, Minnesota and Denver — the Nets now welcome the NBA’s elite to Barclays Center for a four-game stretch certain to check the bounds of their newfound No. 1 protection.
The Nets host the Western Conference’s No. 3 Sacramento Kings on Thursday; host Nikola Jokic and the West’s No. 1 seeded Nuggets in a matinee sport on Sunday; then welcome Donovan Mitchell and the Eastern Conference’s fourth-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers in back-to-back video games.
The Nets simply defeated the Nuggets in Denver in considered one of their finest video games of the season, however the Nuggets consider they acquired caught sleeping. Expect that crew to make a press release in Brooklyn.
The stretch then continues on the highway in Miami towards a Heat crew that will have turned a nook by creeping into the East’s No. 7 seed, adopted by a visit to Orlando hours later within the second sport of a a back-to-back towards a protracted, athletic and spry Magic crew.
The Nets exited the All-Star break with the NBA’s seventh-most tough remaining schedule in all of basketball. They misplaced their first 4 video games out of the break, then gained 5 video games in six tries coming into Tuesday’s matchup towards the Oklahoma City Thunder.
That makes Brooklyn 5-5 by means of the primary 10 video games of one of many NBA’s 10 hardest schedules. From this level on, the Nets have the twelfth lightest schedule, although their upcoming six-game stretch is as tough a slate of video games any crew has to face.
The Nets have a lot of causes to be motivated to safe as many wins as doable, chief amongst them their very playoff livelihood in a convention with three underachieving groups that entered the season with aspirations of deep playoff runs.
The No. 7 Heat, No. 8 Atlanta Hawks and No. 10 Chicago Bulls have all upset given the star energy on their respective rosters — and you’ll add the No. 11 Washington Wizards as a perennial contender for let-down of the yr. Each of these groups invested in star energy — but every of these groups, minus the embarrassing Wizards, would discover themselves in sudden-death Play-In Tournament territory if the playoffs started at this time.
The playoffs don’t.
Every Eastern Conference crew entered Tuesday with at the least 12 video games left on the schedule. The Heat, for instance, are three video games behind the Nets within the standings and have performed two extra video games than the Nets thus far this season.
Yet they’ve the fifth-lightest schedule in all of basketball, their stars (Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Tyler Herro) are all wholesome, and the Heat entered Tuesday winners of 4 of their final six video games.
Trae Young’s Hawks have 13 video games left on the schedule and have the thirteenth strongest remaining schedule — in different phrases: a comparatively common slate — and have additionally underperformed given Young’s star energy, the addition of Dejounte Murray and the three-and-D capability of their versatile roster. They additionally fired head coach Nate McMillan halfway by means of the season and changed him with Quin Snyder — who molded the Utah Jazz into perennial contenders round Mitchell — offering extra proof Atlanta is house to a crew able to making a late-season run.
The Bulls are much less of a risk with the eighth strongest remaining schedule in all of basketball, however at 5 video games below-.500 and seven.5 video games behind the Nets within the standings, the desperation degree within the Windy City must be excessive. With DeMar DeRozan, Zach LaVine and Nikola Vucevic on the ground, Chicago isn’t a crew anybody desires on the unsuitable evening, particularly not in a winner-take-all Play-In Tournament sport.
Another purpose the Nets want to return out on the favorable finish of the upcoming six-game stretch? It might be the distinction between seeing Joel Embiid within the first spherical of the playoffs — and seeing Mitchell.
Brooklyn entered Tuesday in a digital tie with the Knicks for the No. 5 seed, and the 2 groups are tied at 2-2 of their season sequence, which means the tiebreaker standards would come right down to division document. The Knicks are 8-8 within the Atlantic Division and the Nets are 7-8 with their last division sport on April 9 in Brooklyn within the season finale towards Embiid and the 76ers.
And if the Nets end with a extra favorable document than the Knicks of their last dash to the postseason, they’ll evade the No. 3 76ers, who’re three-and-a-half video games forward of the Cleveland Cavaliers, a way more favorable first-round opponent if the Nets keep maintain of the East’s No. 5 seed.
If they don’t, the best-case state of affairs is a date with Embiid, and as for worst case: with the surging Heat, there’s no assure the Nets maintain onto No. 6, which means each sport counts from right here on out if the Nets wish to keep a playoff crew this season.
That begins with an upcoming stretch at Barclays Center — internet hosting Sacramento, Denver, and Spida Mitchell twice — earlier than a visit to Miami to face a motivated Heat crew within the first leg of a back-to-back shortly after.