Brooklyn Nets will have to learn on the fly down tough finish

Brooklyn Nets DeMarre Carroll (Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets DeMarre Carroll (Photo by Matteo Marchi/Getty Images) /

No team in the NBA has a tougher remaining schedule than the Brooklyn Nets, currently in a dogfight with 5 other teams for 3 available Eastern playoff spots.

The Brooklyn Nets currently hold a 3½-game lead over the Orlando Magic and Charlotte Hornets in the race for one of the three remaining Eastern Conference playoff berths.

While only the Milwaukee Bucks have currently clinched a playoff berth in the East, the Toronto Raptors, Indiana Pacers, Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics are virtual locks, barring something incredibly strange over the season’s final five weeks.

The leaves the Nets in a pace with six teams looking for those last three spots. A look at the bottom of the Eastern playoff race as of Thursday morning:

Brooklyn Nets
Brooklyn Nets /

The problem for Brooklyn moving forward is two-fold: (1) No team in the NBA has a tougher remaining schedule than the Nets and (2) the Nets have precious little experience in their current nine-man rotation when it comes to playing meaningful games in March and April.

The rankings of the six teams above by remaining strength of schedule, per Tankathon:

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1. Brooklyn .581
8. Charlotte .540
9, Miami .533
22. Detroit .482
26. Washington .461
28. Orlando .451

Those figures are based on the winning percentages of the team’s remaining opponents.

The Nets still have two games left — one at home and one on the road — against the Bucks, who own the NBA’s best record at 48-16. Brooklyn will host Toronto, second-best in the NBA at 46-19 and visit the Pacers, who have the fifth-best mark in the league at 42-23.

There is also a road trip to Philadelphia (41-24), visits to Oklahoma City and Portland (both 39-25), a home game with the Celtics (40-26), a game at Utah (37-27), a trip to the LA Clippers (37-29), Monday’s showdown at home with the Pistons and a game at Sacramento (32-32).

The only “easy” contests remaining at home for the Heat (30-34) and trips to the Los Angeles Lakers (30-35) and Atlanta Hawks (22-44).

So if the Brooklyn Nets hold on and earn a playoff berth, they will have most definitely earned it.

The other concern for the Nets is that of experience. Brooklyn hasn’t played meaningful late-season games in four years, since its last playoff appearance in 2015, and there is a sum total of zero players remaining from that team on the current roster.

Of the nine players who played in Wednesday’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers — what appears to be coach Kenny Atkinson’s rotation moving forward — none has an NBA title, none has been a rotation member for an NBA Finals team and just one has participated in a conference finals series as a rotation player.

Backup forward DeMarre Carroll has the most extensive postseason resume with 57 playoff games and a visits to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2015 with the Hawks and 2016 with the Raptors. Both of those teams lost to the Cleveland LeBrons.

Starting guard Allen Crabbe and backup center Ed Davis were in Portland’s rotation in 2016, when the Blazers reached the second round. Davis has played in 30 playoff games and Crabbe 17.

From there, it gets sketchy. Joe Harris was a deep bench player as a rookie for Cleveland’s run to the 2015 NBA Finals, playing in only six of the Cavs’ 20 games for a grand total of 16 minutes.

Sixth man Spencer Dinwiddie was with the Pistons’ last postseason entry in 2016 and played two minutes in Game 2 as Detroit was swept by Cleveland in the first round.

From there, you have fourth-year guard D’Angelo Russell, third-year wing Caris LeVert and second-year center Jarrett Allen who have never been with teams that were in any sort of playoff contention late in the season.

Finally, you have rookie Rodions Kurucs, whose limited Euroleague experience with FC Barcelona (five games, 19 minutes) hardly makes him playoff-tested.

Deeper on the bench, you have Jared Dudley, a veteran of the Phoenix Suns’ run to the Western Conference Finals in 2010, and Shabazz Napier, who was with Portland the last two seasons.

So it’s a team full of rotation players who have not been rotation players in a playoff chase, going against the toughest remaining schedule in the NBA.

The fact the Nets rebounded from an 8-18 start through enough injuries that would have folded many teams to be in this position is nothing short of remarkable.

They’ve defied a lot of odds just being 26-15 since that dreadful start and they have road wins at Philadelphia and over the Denver Nuggets to hang their hat on as they face this grueling stretch to close out the regular season.

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That said, it would still feel a bit disappointing if Brooklyn can’t close the deal and grab a playoff spot this spring.