Brooklyn Nets head into second half with momentum

Brooklyn Nets Jarrett Allen. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Jarrett Allen. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Gary Dineen/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Brooklyn Nets hit the midpoint of the season Sunday with a 20-21 record and a share of the best record in the NBA over the last month at 12-3.

The Brooklyn Nets weren’t supposed to be here, you know.

After all, it was just 33 days ago the Nets blew a 20-point fourth quarter lead in losing their eighth consecutive game, dropping a 114-112 decision at Barclays Center to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Paul George‘s 3-point bomb with 3.6 seconds left.

At that point, Brooklyn was 8-18, 12th place in the Eastern Conference. They trailed the eighth-place Charlotte Hornets by four full games and were a half-game behind the New York Knicks.

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The Nets were also 2-10 in the wake of the season-altering injury sustained by Caris LeVert in a Nov. 12 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, 2-11 if you count that loss, considering LeVert did not play in the second half.

Brooklyn has been, inexplicably, one of the hottest teams in the NBA since. Their 12-3 record since Dec. 7 is tied with the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs as the best in the league over the last 30 days through Sunday.

In the standings, the Nets have moved up five spots to seventh, percentage points ahead of Charlotte and just a half-game behind the Miami Heat, who currently occupy sixth place.

Halfway through the 2018-19 season, the Brooklyn Nets have made the progress coach Kenny Atkinson and general manager Sean Marks said was theirs for the taking this season.

Their 20-21 record is the team’s best at the midway point since the first season in Brooklyn (25-16) and their 12-3 record over their last 15 games matches the best 15-game stretch of the Brooklyn era, per Nets PR.

The Nets were 8-13 at the unofficial quarter pole of the season (since measuring a team’s record halfway through their 21st game is awkward, at best) and went 12-8 in the second quarter of the season.

They didn’t get here because of individual stars. Among the league leaders in the traditional statistical categories, the only Nets you’ll find are Joe Harris (second in 3-point shooting at 48.2 percent) and D’Angelo Russell (ninth in 3-point makes with 99).

In the advanced statistics, backup center Ed Davis tops the NBA in offensive rebounding percentage (15.4) and overall rebounding percentage (22.4) and is fifth in defensive rebounding percentage (29.6).

But the whole has reached the point of exceeding the sum of its parts for Brooklyn.

Atkinson said Sunday’s 117-100 win over the Chicago Bulls was one of the most satisfying of the season, in that he didn’t really have to do much.

Comparing where the Nets were at the quarter-season mark (through 21 games) to where they are now, at their midpoint, paints a picture of a team that is improving in many ways.

First the traditional stats:

Scoring: 109.4 points per game (16th) to 111.1 points per game (16th)
Defense: 110.8 PPG (15th) to 111.4 PPG (19th)
Shooting: 44.5 percent (22nd) to 45.5 percent (16th)
3-PT shooting: 35.1 percent (17th) to 36.4 percent (7th)

In the advanced areas:

Offensive rating: 109.4 (11th) to 110.2 (11th)
Defensive rating: 110.3 (23rd) to 110.4 (22nd)
Def. Rebounding: 69.0 percent (28th) to 72.1 percent (19th)
Assist: 58.7 percent (12th) to 59.5 percent (15th)

The improvement on the defensive window and the hike in shooting across the board are the most stark differences.

Over the 20 games of the second quarter of their season, the Nets were sixth-best in the NBA in defensive rebounding percentage at 75.0 after ranking third-worst through their first 21 games. That is a dramatic — and remarkable — change.

Brooklyn’s overall shooting percentage of 46.6 percent over the last 20 games ranks 12th in the league and their 37.7 percent 3-point accuracy is sixth.

At the midpoint, the Nets are 10-11 at Barclays Center and 10-10 on the road. They’re one of only six teams in the Eastern Conference at or above .500 away from home, trailing the Toronto Raptors (14-8), Indiana Pacers (12-8), Milwaukee Bucks (9-7), and Miami Heat (10-8) and tied with the Boston Celtics (10-10).

The downside is their home record is tied with the Orlando Magic for ninth in the East, ahead of only the Heat’s 9-11 mark among the 11 teams in the East that could realistically be entertaining playoff thoughts.

The next 21 games will take Brooklyn through Feb. 25, a little more than a week after the All-Star break. Ten of those games will be on the road with 11 at home.

The Nets will play the Celtics and Magic three times each during this stretch. They go to Boston Monday and again Jan. 28, with a home game on Jan. 14. Similarly, the Nets visit Orlando on Jan. 18 and Feb. 2 and host the Magic on Jan. 23.

The will also visit Toronto twice (Friday and Feb. 11), will host the Bulls twice (Jan. 29 and Feb. 8) and will start and finish their home-and-home with the Spurs (at San Antonio Jan. 31, at Brooklyn Feb. 25).

The rest of the slate includes home games with the Atlanta Hawks (Wednesday), Sacramento Kings (Jan. 21), Knicks (Jan. 25), Bucks (Feb. 4), Denver Nuggets (Feb. 6) and Portland Trail Blazers (Feb. 21).

The rest of the road games are at the Houston Rockets (Jan. 16), Cleveland Cavaliers (Feb. 13) and Charlotte (Feb. 23).

However, aside from finishing one Monday, Brooklyn has only one back-to-back over the next 21 games, when they visit Boston on Jan. 28 and host the Bulls on Jan. 29.

Otherwise, they have at least one day between games, with two-day gaps every remaining weekend in January — the next time they play on a Saturday or a Sunday will be Feb. 2 at Orlando and the Nets will also be off the weekend before the All-Star Game (Feb. 9-10).

The Nets will also be off for eight days during the All-Star festivities, playing their last game before the break on Feb. 13 before resuming their schedule on Feb. 21.

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After a fairly brutal stretch of schedule, things will ease off after Monday. For a team that is as banged up as Brooklyn — with four players, including two starters and one guy who was starting in place of an injured starter, currently sidelined — those breaks between games are big.