So, let’s get one thing out of the way: the Nets were thoroughly dismantled Saturday night by the Atlanta Hawks, a team that might present their worst matchup in the Eastern Conference. They were on the second half of a back-to-back and their fourth game in five nights; the Hawks were on three days rest and had only played their starters 24 minutes each against Detroit. It wasn’t so much a complete blowout as it was an early one: the Hawks took a double-digit lead early and never looked back, and the Nets looked resigned to their fate.
So look past that fallen tree and focus on the forest. Four weeks ago, the Nets were 25-38, prompting some dumb writers to wax poetic on what seemed like their inevitable demise. Today, they’re the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
We should’ve known. Just like last year’s zombie Nets rose from the ashes after January 1st to sneak into the second round of the playoffs, this year’s went on a tear after that nadir, winning 10 of 12 games and fighting four other teams for one of two playoff spots.[note]Maybe six teams for three spots, if the Milwaukee Bucks slide further.[/note]
There’s an element of good fortune to all this: teams just don’t go 10-2 in a 12-game stretch while only outscoring opponents by two points per game without some luck. Six of those wins came down to the final few possessions; a Cleanthony Early heave landing square or a Giannis Antetokounmpo post-up going the other way puts the Nets on the outside looking in at the playoffs. Throw in some favorable matchups[note]The Raptors without Kyle Lowry, the already-tanking Lakers & Timberwolves with only eight active players come to mind.[/note], and you’ve got the team’s best stretch of the season by a long shot.
This isn’t to deny how well the Nets have played — they’ve won these games! That’s good! — but a reminder that basketball is an incredibly fickle and weird sport, and it often comes down to putting yourself in the right position to succeed and hoping things go your way.
Here’s what’s in the right position, and what’s not.