Brooklyn Nets ‘closer’ to a breakthrough than we might think

Brooklyn Nets Kenny Atkinson (Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Kenny Atkinson (Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images) /

The Brooklyn Nets should be a couple of games better than their record indicates, but a breakthrough win against the Toronto Raptors could be a springboard.

The Brooklyn Nets, for the first time in what seemed like a very long time, were able to close out a close game Friday night, holding off the Toronto Raptors for a 106-105 overtime victory, snapping an eight-game losing streak in the process.

That came on the heels of a string of lost leads and lost opportunities for the Nets, particularly at home. No team in the NBA has lost more games in which they’ve led by at least 10 points than has Brooklyn, with eight such losses.

In games decided by five points or less, Brooklyn is 4-5 this season and the Nets also lost a game in overtime to the Memphis Grizzlies by six points that should be included in any recitation of close losses — and blown leads, as they were up by seven points with 33 seconds remaining in regulation.

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Since losing Caris LeVert to a dislocated foot, Brooklyn is 1-3 (plus the Memphis loss) in those close finishes. LeVert had late-clock game-winners to beat both the New York Knicks on Oct. 19 and the Denver Nuggets on Nov. 9 before he was hurt.

Indeed, finding someone to score late in those situations has been a challenge for Brooklyn. Spencer Dinwiddie has the Nets’ other late-clock game-winner this season with a dagger 3-pointer in overtime to beat the Detroit Pistons on Halloween night.

Jarrett Allen scored the go-ahead points against the Raptors on Friday, but it was not in a late-clock situation. His layup came with 1:04 remaining before the Raptors missed their final two shots and Brooklyn had a missed shot and a turnover on its last two possessions.

The Nets have a net rating of minus-1.6 points per 100 possessions. That ranks 22nd in the NBA and per Basketball Reference, Brooklyn’s numbers should equate to a 12-16 record rather than 10-18.

Those things matter because over the course of 82 games, these sort of trends can have a balancing-out effect, sort of an extension of the law of large numbers (or, if you prefer a more scientific explanation, the results normalize as more data becomes available).

There are a couple of other figures at the other end of the close-game scale that should provide encouragement for Brooklyn Nets fans, however. This team is one of the most difficult clubs in the NBA to blow out.

Of their 18 losses this season, only one — a 132-112 defeat at the hands of the Indiana Pacers on the road on Oct. 20 — has been by 20 points or more.

That’s two fewer 20-point drubbings than the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors have absorbed this season and five less than the number of 20-point losses endured by the New York Knicks.

The Phoenix Suns — who not coincidentally have the worst record in the NBA at 4-22 — have been beaten by at least 20 points in eight games this season.

If you move the needle back to losses by at least 15 points, Brooklyn has three this season — adding the 115-96 loss to the Knicks on Oct. 29 and the 116-110 loss to the Warriors on Nov. 10 to the list.

The four teams at the bottom of the NBA overall standings lead the NBA in this category — Phoenix has 13 losses by at least 15 points, the Atlanta Hawks and Chicago Bulls have 10 each and the Cleveland Cavaliers are at nine.

The Nets aren’t in bad company at three — joined by the Charlotte Hornets, Dallas Mavericks, the Pistons, the Warriors, the Grizzlies, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Portland Trail Blazers. All of those teams are in or near playoff positions as of now.

Close losses can be frustrating for everyone involved, especially fans. But the thing to bear in mind is this: In order to lose a close game, you have to have a chance to win it. If you’re getting blown out by 20 points every other game, that’s an opportunity you don’t have.

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The numbers say the Brooklyn Nets are closer to breaking through to the next step in their progression than their 10-18 record might suggest.