As the Brooklyn Nets claw back into the playoff race, fighting four teams for the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference, here’s a quick look at the road ahead.
Where they stand: The Nets are currently 11th in the Eastern Conference. That sounds worse than it is. Only one game separates between them and the eighth-seeded Boston Celtics, and they’re just a half-game behind the Charlotte Hornets and Indiana Pacers, the latter of whom they just beat. Hollinger’s playoff odds had them at a 13.3 percent chance to make the playoffs before Saturday night’s win.
With all these teams scrunched up, there’s a good chance two teams will end the season with identical records. If they do, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head record, and every Brooklyn tiebreaker is in the air:
- Nets-Celtics: The Celtics currently have a 2-1 edge on the season. If they win the last game between these two teams on March 23rd, they’ll own the tiebreaker no matter what. If the Nets win, they’d go to the in-Conference winning percentage. The Celtics currently have the edge there: they’ve got an 18-21 record against other Eastern Conference teams, while the Nets are at 17-23.
- Nets-Pacers & Nets-Hornets: The Nets have split the season series with both of these teams so far, with one more game against each. The last Nets-Pacers game is in Brooklyn on March 31st; Nets-Hornets is in Charlotte on March 26th. Since they play an odd number of games, the tiebreaker goes to whoever wins the rubber match.
The schedule: The Nets have some advantages in their upcoming schedule. 10 of their last 14 games are at home[note]I’m still considering this an advantage, even though the Nets have played better on the road than at home this season.[/note], by far the most of the four teams competing for the final spot. One of those four road games is against the free-falling New York Knicks. They do have some difficult home games, notably the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavaliers, but they’re also facing teams that will likely rest their players down the stretch, and two teams (the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic) who have no incentive to win beyond pride.
But it’s not all rosy. In terms of pure win-loss percentage, the Nets have the second-hardest schedule in the Eastern Conference, according to the website PlayoffStatus.com, with an opposing winning percentage of an even 50 percent.[note]The good news: the only team with a harder stretch run? The Hornets, whose opponents have a cumulative winning percentage of 51 percent. Plus, the Hornets play twice as many games on the road.[/note]
It’s possible, but the Nets will need a little of everything: more offensive explosions & rim protection like they got Saturday night, some teams resting starters at the right time, and a little bit of luck.
One more thought: There’s also the unlikely-but-possible scenario that another spot opens up. Jason Kidd’s Milwaukee Bucks have won just four of 16 games since trading Brandon Knight at the trade deadline, and the Bucks’ triple-overtime loss to the Nets Friday night dropped them under .500 for the first time since they were 15-16 on December 27th. Kidd insisted Friday night that they weren’t trending downwards, and with a 2.5 game lead over the eighth-seeded Celtics, it’s unlikely they tumble all the way out.
But this isn’t the same team that shocked the NBA world heading into All-Star, and if the losing keeps up, there will be room for a second team to sneak in. You can only imagine the reaction in the Nets front office if they steal a playoff spot from Kidd’s Bucks at the last second.