Brooklyn’s record is currently dipping below the .500 mark, so it’s difficult to call them a title contender right now.
But despite all of the turmoil that they’ve dealt with this year, including a season-ending injury to Brook Lopez, the Nets are still going to be a lethal playoff matchup for whomever it is that they encounter.
Historically clutch leaders
On a nightly basis, Pierce isn’t the same player that he was five years ago. But in the biggest moments under the brightest lights, he steps up. Always has, always will.
Johnson, who earned a spot as an Eastern Conference reserve in the All-Star Game, is deadly with the game on the line. Back in December, I laid out the numbers:
According to ESPN New York’s Mike Mazzeo, Johnson drilled nine of his 10 shot attempts from the field last season with the score differential three points or fewer and less than a minute remaining in the game. And, per ESPN Stats & Information, the only two players to have more buzzer-beating shots than Johnson (4) in the last ten years are Kobe Bryant and Gilbert Arenas.
In order to make a postseason run, teams have to close out tight games. And most rosters are lucky to have one go-to guy in the most pressure-packed moments.
In Pierce and Johnson, the Nets have two.
Extremely deep roster
Pierce, KG, Andrei Kirilenko, Jason Terry and others have also missed decent chunks of time with various injuries, which is one of the main reasons that the Nets struggled so mightily coming out of the gate in 2013-14.
But Brooklyn embodies what the “next man up” mentality is all about.
Kidd goes deep into his bench nightly, as evidenced by the 14 players that he’s giving double-digit minutes. Even before J-Kidd was crowned as the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for January, he received supported from Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov.
Here’s what the Russian billionaire told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
Jason Kidd is becoming more and more comfortable. And what is important is he has the support of the players. And that’s the only way how we can conduct together. So everything is okay because, of course, we can’t make any excuse with injuries. And what I’m glad to see is the players stepping up in the situation. Now everything is more or less okay.
Brooklyn’s depth will allow it to rest the elder statesmen like Pierce and Garnett before playoff time and will make it tough for opponents to match up with every one of Kidd’s lineups in a seven-game series.
The Nets don’t have the most talented roster in the league, but they do have one of the deepest. And in the postseason, depth goes a long way.
How to get there…the right way
As of February 5, the Nets sat four games behind the Toronto Raptors for control of the Atlantic Division and were locked into the seventh spot in the East.
In all likelihood, Brooklyn will get into the playoffs, if only thanks to how sorry the East is this year.
Early in the season, the Nets endured an onslaught of injuries, which led to some tough stretches and heavy criticism. But eventually, the team began learning how to win with and without key players—regardless of whether Lopez, D-Will, Pierce, KG, or anyone else was on the sidelines.
The Nets will be a tough out for any team in the East other than the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers. So the best, and really the only, way to set up a potential run is to win the Atlantic and clinch a top-four seed.
Brooklyn entered the season with expectations of a championship, but those lofty goals quickly fell by the wayside after such a rocky start to 2013-14.
Once the playoffs come rolling around, none of that will matter. The Nets are going to go from a monumental disappointment to an extremely dangerous team.
All stats are accurate as of February 5 courtesy of Basketball Reference.