Brooklyn Nets further along than it might seem

Brooklyn Nets. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Brooklyn Nets are at the 30-game mark this season at 12-18, but have been surging of late with 4 straight wins. They’re closer to good than it may seem.

The Brooklyn Nets have followed an eight-game losing streak with four consecutive victories and have climbed back into the thick of the race for one of the bottom playoff spots in the Eastern Conference.

As you may have heard somewhere along the line, the Nets have had some issues at times this season finishing out games. Specifically, Brooklyn has lost eight games — an NBA high — in which they held a double-digit lead.

While it felt as if all eight of those came during the two-week span in which the Nets lost those eight straight games, only half of those losses fit the criteria.

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It was Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells who once said:

"“You are what your record says you are.”"

Using that rigid interpretation, the Brooklyn Nets are the 10th-best team in the Eastern Conference at 12-18, one game behind the ninth-place Miami Heat, two in back of the eighth-place Orlando Magic and just three behind the teams sharing sixth place in the Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons.

One of the rites of passage for young teams that successfully emerge from the rebuilding process is learning how to close out games. It’s an area in which Brooklyn struggled last season and those issues continued into the early part of 2018-19.

Even during their recent winning streak, each of the last three games has been marked by the Nets taking a double-digit lead before having to grind it out at the finish as their opponents made the games interesting in the closing minutes.

In their Dec. 8 win at New York, the Nets led the Knicks by 19 points in the fourth quarter before New York got as close as five.

On Wednesday in Philadelphia, Brooklyn had a 13-point edge in the second half and led by 12 with 6:14 left before the 76ers closed to within three points in the closing seconds.

And Friday night against the Washington Wizards, the Nets opened the fourth quarter with a 16-point bulge before Washington got its deficit down to four points twice in the final five minutes.

In all three of those games, Brooklyn did something it had — with alarming regularity — been unable to do even as recently as last week, finish.

The Nets are now 6-10 in the games leading scorer Caris LeVert has missed since dislocating his right foot on Nov. 12. They were 6-8 through the game in which LeVert was injured.

So not only are the Nets figuring out how to close out wins, they’re doing it without the guy who had emerged as their best player and a key component of both their offensive and defensive game plans.

If you’re a person who sees the glass as half-empty, the Nets have blown eight games they should have won.

If you tend to see more of the half-full side of things, Brooklyn put itself in a position to win a lot of games before their inexperience led to game-altering mistakes.

To stretch that half-empty, half-full metaphor a bit further, consider where the Nets would be if they had managed to figure out how to close out even half of those eight games in which they held double-digit leads before losing.

Instead of 12-18 and 10th in the East, you have a Nets team that is 16-14 and solidly in sixth — and that is with more than half of those games — 16 and counting — being contested without the squad’s best player.

Brooklyn went through a stretch of games during their recent losing skid that could have broken the resolve of many teams … and has. But this group stuck it out and is starting to reap the rewards from not succumbing to the “oh, same old Nets” mentality.

Look at the Washington team the Nets beat on Friday night. The Wizards got off to a bad start and have engaged in various rounds of public blaming sessions. It’s a talented enough group that it’s been able to mask some of the problems by winning a few games in spurts.

But that Wizards team looks like it’s having just about as much fun as a guy being audited by the IRS. It’s one thing to play with an edge, to play angry at your opponent.

The Wizards? They have the look of a group that they can’t much stand the idea of being in the same area code, much less the same locker room.

LeVert, meanwhile, is progressing in his recovery, with general manager Sean Marks telling the media on Friday (per NetsDaily) that LeVert’s recovery is on target, but that the third-year wing has not started sprinting yet.

LeVert isn’t talking about a timetable for his return, but signs point to him being back at some point this season.

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But the Nets figuring things out in his absence, that bodes well for a potential big finish and perhaps the club’s first postseason berth since 2015.