Brooklyn Nets: Eighth Better Than Seventh?


What originated as a race to steal the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed has now transformed into a different mission for the Brooklyn Nets. A mission not to nab the up-for-grabs seventh slot instead.

As bizarre as it initially sounds, Lionel Hollins doesn’t just have his team playing at a remarkable clip over the last 12 games (10-2), he actually has them playing a little too well for their own good. Brooklyn’s postseason hopes appeared to be fading quickly only a few weeks ago, but a six-game winning streak has propelled the Nets into the East’s seventh seed entering Saturday’s matchup with the Atlanta Hawks.

In a normal world, this upward movement would be ideal for the Nets. Seven entails a matchup with the second-best team in the conference rather than the top-dog.

But if there’s anything we’ve learned from watching Eastern Conference basketball during 2014-2015, it’s about as normal as a steakhouse serving bagels.

The East’s basement houses three teams under .500 that would qualify for the postseason if the regular season ended today, Milwaukee, Brooklyn and Miami, along with three additional playoff hopefuls in Boston, Charlotte and Indiana still in the mix right below.

It’s been more Survival of the Least Mediocre than Survival of the Fittest, which has enabled the Nets to leapfrog their competitors in a relatively short matter of time. But for their own sake, it would be in the team’s best interest to enter the playoffs as an eight seed as opposed to a seven.

No, we have not entered the Twilight Zone. We have, however, entered a season in which the aforementioned Hawks, without the presence of even one true superstar, have come out of absolutely nowhere and asserted themselves as the East’s most dominant club with a record of 56-19.

In fact, the only team across the league with a superior record is Golden State (62-13), and that’s taken an MVP-caliber campaign from the sharpshooting, wizarding ball-handler known only as Stephen Curry.

Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer’s successful application of everything he learned in San Antonio under the tutelage of all-time great Greg Popovich has been the key to accelerated success for the flash-less Hawks. And while that certainly has the ring of an intimidating opponent for the Nets, consider the alternative – the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Remember that period when it was unclear whether or not David Blatt was going to survive his first season in Cleveland? When questions of LeBron James losing a step arose through the mounting losses? When Kevin Love’s perceived unhappiness was a sign of inevitable implosion?

Those times are a very distant memory for myself as well. Not because they occurred so many moons ago, but because it really is true – winning cures all. Well, maybe not Love’s potential discontent with his role, but that hasn’t prevented Cleveland from a complete reversal in fortune, a 49-27 record and the No. 2 seed in the East.

When clicking on all cylinders, the Cavs appear to be the most dominant, balanced team in the league. Why would the Nets be eager to take on such an opponent if one with far less experience and talent would be the reward for finishing eighth?

Forget finishing seventh in the East. Eight is the place to be this postseason.