Just a couple of weeks ago, the Brooklyn Nets were on life support. Sitting at 5-14 and still stinging from an embarrassing 30-point defeat at the hands of the similarly diseased New York Knicks, things were looking grim. Coaches were screaming at one another, marquee players were spending more time on the training table than the hardwood and none of the team’s bold offseason moves were paying dividends. But there have been signs of life lately. Brief flickers of vitality, still faint, are beginning to animate the Nets. They’ve won four out of their past five games and have posted a net rating of plus 3.7 points per 100 possessions in the month of December, per NBA.com. Even better, some of the walking wounded have begun to get healthy.As a result, Brooklyn sits just a single game out of the eighth playoff spot in the beleaguered Eastern Conference. You read that right: one solitary game away from postseason position.
What’s happening with the Nets is about more than their incomprehensible proximity to a playoff spot. Viewed broadly, the Nets’ current near-respectable status matters more because it shows that in a season where everything has gone wrong, they’re still only a whisper away from the one thing they really want: a ticket to the postseason dance.
Don’t be mistaken; the Nets still have profound flaws. Collectively, they’re extremely fragile, and both Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett seem to have come aboard shortly after absorbing a few of Father Time’s haymakers. Neither Deron Williams nor Brook Lopez has stayed healthy for more than a few games at a time, and Joe Johnson had been playing the 2013-14 season like somebody had replaced his Gatorade with NyQuil—at least until his third-quarter explosion against the Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 16. Andrei Kirilenko is still dealing with a bad back. Jason Terry has provided next to nothing. The list goes on.
Despite all that, the Nets are still right there.
The real question for the Nets isn’t whether or not they’ll make the playoffs, but whether or not they’ll earn home-court advantage in the first round. To do so, they’d have to either win the Atlantic Division or find a way to overtake the likes of the Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons. With games coming up against the Washington Wizards, Philadelphia 76ers, Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks in their next five, Brooklyn has a genuine chance to build some momentum and climb up the conference heading into the new year. There’s no doubt that they’ve been a disappointment so far and, in hindsight, their blockbuster trade was certainly questionable, but this is still a team we’ll see in the postseason.