After running out of gas against the Portland Trail Blazers in double-overtime, the Brooklyn Nets let a major opportunity slip through their hands. Did Brooklyn’s playoff window close on Monday?
The loss against the Portland Trail Blazers epitomized the Brooklyn Nets’ recent road trip.
Through four quarters and an overtime period, the Nets played neck-and-neck with the playoff team from Portland. Ultimately, Brooklyn ran out of gas in the second overtime and wound up losing to C.J. McCollum-less Trail Blazers team, 148-144.
Brooklyn’s sixth-straight road game was a huge opportunity to come one step closer to clinching a playoff spot. By upsetting Portland, the Nets would have given themselves a comfortable one-game lead over the seventh-place Detroit Pistons and a two-game lead over the eighth-place Miami Heat.
“Shoulda,” “woulda” and “coulda” don’t count for much in this league, and now Brooklyn is once again dead-even with the Pistons for seventh-place. If there’s one thing we have learned about the Nets throughout the last two weeks, it’s that they are who we thought they were.
The Nets collected wins against bad teams (Sacramento and Los Angeles) and experienced close losses against good ones (Oklahoma City, Utah, LA, and now Portland). This fits right in line with season-long trends.
Sitting at 2-4 with one game remaining against the Philadelphia 76ers, Brooklyn has a very good chance of going 2-5 during the final road trip of the season.
Things don’t get much easier when the team returns home for a three-game stand. Brooklyn will be forced to go through Boston, Milwaukee, and Toronto at the Barclays Center. Then the team heads to Milwaukee to take on the league-best Bucks, flies to Indiana to face a Pacers team that has given Brooklyn fits all season long and closes out the season with a home game against the Miami Heat.
There’s a good chance that Brooklyn goes 0-6 leading up to the Miami game. Given the team’s current lack of breathing room, this could completely sink Brooklyn’s playoff chances.
Unfortunately, Brooklyn’s playoff rivals are revving their engines at the right time.
Orlando, in particular, is on an absolute tear. The Magic are currently on a league-best 5-game win streak. Orlando has certainly taken advantage of a cupcake schedule; it’s last five opponents have been the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Atlanta Hawks, the New Orleans Pelicans, the Memphis Grizzlies, and the Ben Simmons-less Philadelphia 76ers.
To Orlando’s credit, they’ve looked every bit of a playoff team against the lesser competition. The Magic haven’t just won these games. They’ve dominated them. The team’s average margin of victory has been 17.5 points.
On Tuesday, Orlando heads to Miami for a back-to-back against the Heat. This game will have massive implications on the playoffs standings in the Eastern Conference.
Charlotte has found a way to climb out of the depths of hell and has reinserted itself into the Eastern Conference playoff hunt. The Hornets are enjoying a win-streak of their own—a swoon that was capped off by Jeremy Lamb‘s absurd half-court heave against Toronto.
In fact, Brooklyn’s only rival that isn’t streaking is the much-maligned Detroit Pistons.
The Pistons went 11-2 throughout the month of February before dropping five of its next eight games. With just 9 games remaining on their schedule, the Pistons need to rediscover that February magic. More than likely, the team will continue to play middling basketball.
According to ESPN’s BPI playoff odds, the Nets have a promising 83.5 percent chance of squeaking into the playoffs. BPI expects Brooklyn to finish 40-42 on the season, suggesting that Brooklyn will beat one of Philly, Boston, Milwaukee, Toronto, or Indiana. If Brooklyn loses all of these games, they would earn a 39-43 record alongside the Orlando Magic in a battle for the eighth-seed. Fortunately, Brooklyn has already won the season series against Orlando, 2-1; meaning that Brooklyn would clinch in this scenario.
Basically, Brooklyn would need to lose every remaining game to unquestionably fall out of the hunt.
Still, there’s little room for error. Brooklyn can’t drop any more winnable games as they did against Portland.
Speaking of the Blazers’ game …
During Brooklyn’s double-OT loss, a couple of things stood out:
Jared Dudley continued his fantastic play, filling up the scoreboard with 15 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two blocks. After missing nearly two months with injury, the veteran has been sensational lately. Dudley beefed up his hustle statistics against Portland, laying out for a 50/50 ball late in the fourth and coming up big with a huge block in double-OT:
Jared Dudley with the hustle play in 2OT pic.twitter.com/2Tzcxf0745
— The Render (@TheRenderNBA) March 26, 2019
Perhaps the extended time off allowed Dudley to revitalize himself. As of late, he’s been Brooklyn’s most energized player. That’s crazy, considering he’s the oldest Net on the roster.
Keeping things positive, Caris LeVert had himself his best game since returning from injury, finishing with a team-best +9 plus/minus. LeVert took his matchup with the undersized Seth Curry personally, decimating the Blazers’ shooting guard in the pick-and-roll on numerous occasions:
LeVert finished with 16 crucial points on 5-of-8 shooting. Even more exciting was LeVert’s seven assists. Caris has displayed some major tunnel vision since returning to the floor, so seeing him pass to teammates was a welcomed sight.
One last thing about LeVert: he and Spencer Dinwiddie finally displayed some chemistry off the bench. Late in the third quarter, Kenny Atkinson pulled his star D’Angelo Russell for some needed rest time (D-Lo finished with 42 minutes played).
In his place stepped LeVert and Dinwiddie; a tandem that has been a cantankerous fit. Per usual #NetsTwitter was ablaze, as Nets’ fans were calling for Atkinson’s head after pulling Brooklyn’s star.
However, with Din and LeVert sharing the floor, Brooklyn was able to build a six-point cushion. The backcourt displayed perfect turn-taking, as the two players alternated on fearless drives to the rim. It worked out well, too; all fourteen of Brooklyn’s points to start the fourth quarter came from a LeVert or Dinwiddie shot attempt, free throw, or assist.
If the two can continue to coexist, Brooklyn will boast a lethal off-the-dribble backcourt come playoff time.
All nice things about Spencer Dinwiddie should end here. Outside of his excellent early-fourth quarter push, Dinwiddie was largely ineffective against the Blazers. His biggest contributions might have been for the other team. Dinwiddie recorded six fouls during the game, including this particularly egregious foul at the end of the fourth:
With the Nets up one, D’Angelo Russell (more on him in a second) was stripped of the ball by Seth Curry. For no reason at all, Dinwiddie took it upon himself to foul the Blazers’ guard and put him at the line for free throws. Curry—an 84.6 percent free throw shooter—went 1-of-2 at the stripe, thereby pushing the game into OT. Sure, Russell’s turnover was embarrassing, but Dinwiddie’s mental error played a hand in blowing this game.
Use whatever cliche you want to describe D’Angelo Russell versus Portland: mixed bag, hot-and-cold, etc. There’s no wrong answer here.
Russell played the Nets into this game before proceeding to shoot his team out of it. D-Lo’s 39 points would suggest this was another sensational game for the fourth-year pro. However, a couple of statistics stand out.
Russell took 14 threes, yet only made three of them. For most of the game, Russell had me smiling as he continued to use his size as an advantage while driving to the cup with ferocity.
That smile quickly changed to a scowl during the two overtime periods. Perhaps it was tired legs, but Russell began to settle for tough three-pointers. After feasting on Portland’s undersized backcourt of Lillard and Curry all game long, D-Lo made it easy on Blazers.
Even worse were his six turnovers. Russell displayed a complete and utter lack of focus down the stretch. Not only was Russell loose with his normally elite handle, but D-Lo also tossed extremely ill-timed passes.
Things kind of unraveled for Russell, and it’s performances like this that explain Atkinson’s pattern of pulling D-Lo in the middle of competitive games.
D’Angelo Russell has been the team’s best player all season long and has guided his team into the front-and-center of a competitive playoff hunt. However, Brooklyn needs its star to play with more calmness in situations like this.
Can I just copy-and-paste my Jarrett Allen analysis from the last few Nets’ games? It was more of the same on Monday.
The Nets have been all over the place throughout the last two weeks. But Allen’s inability to match up with opposing bigs has been the one constant.
My fears regarding this game came true; Jusuf Nurkic and Enes Kanter pummeled Brooklyn’s starting center in the ground. Both of Portland’s bigs finished with double-doubles, with Nurkic scoring a team-high 32 points (along with 16 rebounds).
Allen was largely unplayable. In fact, if backup C Ed Davis hadn’t fouled out with four minutes remaining in the fourth, he would have likely finished with more minutes played than Allen.
Of any player on Brooklyn’s roster, Allen’s offseason will be the most important. The Texas alum needs to bulk, bulk, and then bulk some more. If he looks as flummoxed next season by opposing centers, then perhaps it’s time for Brooklyn to explore the market for a new starting big man.
Prayers for Jusuf Nurkic
Seriously, get well soon big guy. Nurkic was in the midst of a tremendous season. I’m hoping he recovers quickly.
In the meantime, let’s hope that Portland hunts down some big playoff wins in spite of Nurkic’s injury. After Monday’s tragedy, Portland should be the secret playoff crush to every NBA fan. I know I’ll be pulling for them.