Brooklyn Nets
Bruno Rouby, ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The Brooklyn Nets have been one of the biggest surprises across the NBA. However, their end-of-season schedule may prove to be their demise.

No one expected this much, this soon for the Brooklyn Nets.

Coming into the season, Las Vegas betting odds predicted that the young Brooklyn Nets would win 32 games in the 2018-2019 season. This would have, unfortunately, placed them outside of the Eastern Conference playoff hunt in the tenth slot.

However, with a surprising 18-21 record, Brooklyn’s young squad enters the new year squarely in the playoff hunt. The Nets are just half a game behind Blake Griffin and the Detroit Pistons, who currently boast the eighth seed in the East.

Brooklyn has blown their predicted win-pace out of the water. If the Nets continue to play like this, they will eclipse the 32-win mark by game 70; a full month before the season ends.

What’s miraculous about all of this is that the team has every reason in the world to believe that things could be better.

In November they lost their star player. They then went on an eight-game tailspin of heartbreaking losses and jumbled team chemistry. Nearly 40 percent of Brooklyn’s total losses occurred in that dreaded two-week span following LeVert’s untimely exit.

Yet, somehow, the team has rallied from defeat, winning 10 of their last 13 games since December 5th. This blistering .729 winning percentage is second to only the crimson-hot Indiana Pacers (11-2 since December 5th).

As it stands, the Nets are on pace to win between 37-to-38 total games this season. Given how weak the Eastern Conference is, this might be enough to sneak into the playoffs.

Even so, grabbing the eighth slot may spell doom. Brooklyn will likely face MVP-candidate, Giannis Antetokounmpo, and the Milwaukee Bucks. Based on their late-December game, Milwaukee’s top-ranked offense will likely be a troublesome matchup for Brooklyn’s subpar defense.

It’s imperative that the Nets move up the standings in the Eastern Conference in order to secure a more favorable playoff matchup (i.e against the 76ers, who the Nets are 2-1 against this season).

This will likely be easier said than done.

The Nets have had the fifth-easiest schedule according to ESPN’s S0S (strength of schedule) ratings. The Nets have certainly taken advantage of their ease of schedule, rattling off wins against bottom-feeders to jump up to half a game out of the eight-seed.

As exciting as their playoff push has been, fans may want to tentatively temper the celebration. According to Tankathon.com, the Nets have the fifth-toughest remaining schedule. Over the next 44 games, Brooklyn’s opponents have a collective winning percentage of .512.

This tough schedule can best be encompassed by their last fourteen games; all of which are particularly brutal.

Eight of the Nets’ last fourteen games are against irrefutable playoff teams. They face the Bucks (twice), the Raptors, the Pacers, the 76ers, the Thunder, the Celtics, and the Lakers (assuming that LeBron James returns soon).

Brooklyn Nets

The other six games aren’t much easier.

The Nets also match up against a deep Clippers team (who crushed them earlier this year), the playoff-tested Trailblazers, the Kings (who have been catching teams by surprise all season long en route to a 19-18 record), the Jazz and their impressive defense, and the Pistons. Brooklyn’s final game of the season is against the Miami Heat, a team that is finally living up to their “white hot” moniker since moving Justice Winslow to the starting point-guard position.

From Mar. 11 to Apr. 10 (last day of the season), there will not be a single game where the Nets can safely take their foot off the gas. There will be no nights off and no easy “schedule wins.” Instead, it will be a night-after-night massacre against near-playoff teams, surefire round-one squads, and bubbling finalists.

Finishing with a winning record during this end-of-season stretch will be nearly impossible.

As a result, it is imperative that Brooklyn wins as many games as possible before then. Of the remaining 20 games before the All-Star break (Feb. 13), only nine of them are against teams with winning records.

Brooklyn must take advantage of this and continue to pray on the weak.

If The Nets can build a large enough cushion prior to Mar. 11, perhaps this can be the season that Brooklyn returns to the playoffs.

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