The Brooklyn Nets haven’t had a trip as long as their upcoming 7-game trek in almost 6 years and their work in December and January made it mean something.
The Brooklyn Nets open their longest road trip since their first season in the borough when they face the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.
From there, the trip will wind through Utah, two stops in Los Angeles, Sacramento, Portland and Philadelphia before the Nets finally return to Barclays Center on March 30.
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The only longer road jaunt of the Brooklyn era came in the Nets’ first season after the move from Jersey, an eight-game adventure from March 18-April 3, 2013. That Brooklyn squad went 5-3 on that trip en route to matching the second-best record in the franchise’s NBA history at 49-33.
When looking at the Brooklyn schedule when it was released last summer, many analysts pointed at this trip as the most important stretch of the season for the Nets.
I wasn’t in that group. Instead, I looked at the home-heavy month of December as being the key to the Nets’ season.
Brooklyn played nine home games in the month and wound up going 9-6, finishing with nine wins in their last 12 games of December, and continued that roll into January with an 11-4 mark.
That helped the Nets erase an 8-18 start and climb into the playoff discussion.
Brooklyn scuffled a bit in February, going 4-6, and with four straight wins — three at home — the Nets are 4-2 thus far in March.
They did the work in December and January that has made the final 13 games meaningful, something that has not been the case in Brooklyn for several years.
With their 103-75 win over the Detroit Pistons at Barclays Center on Monday night, the Nets gave themselves a nice springboard to start the road trip, winning their fourth straight game.
Beyond that, however, the Nets improved to 36-33 on the season and jumped past the Pistons back into sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
The 36 wins are the most for the Nets since they were 38-44 in 2014-15, also the last time they reached the postseason.
They’ve blown away last season’s total of 28 victories, have surpassed their preseason over-under betting line of 32½ wins and are threatening to post their first winning record since going 44-38 in 2013-14.
The win over Detroit was their 21st at Barclays Center this season, where they are 21-16. Regardless of the outcome of their final four games at home, they will finish with a winning record at Barclays for just the third time since moving to the building in 2012.
That came after Brooklyn lost 10 of its first 13 games at home this season. They are 18-6 since then, a .750 winning percentage that would challenge the best homecourt records in the NBA over a full season.
They’ve also surpassed last season’s road mark of 13-28, as they open their seven-game trip with a 15-17 record away from home this season.
With 13 games to play, Brooklyn is 4½ games ahead of the Orlando Magic, currently ninth in the East, and with their head-to-head tiebreaker over Orlando and better conference record than the Charlotte Hornets have a magic number of nine to clinch a playoff berth.
Yes, we’re talking magic numbers instead of bouncing ping pong balls as the season enters its final four weeks.
The task ahead is daunting — 11 of Brooklyn’s final 13 games are against teams that are currently holding playoff positions and 11 of those 13 games are against teams that are currently at least .500.
For good measure, nine of those final 13 games are on the road.
But they are meaningful late-season games, something that would not have been possible had the Nets not righted the ship and took advantage of a home-heavy schedule in December and January.
Taking care of business during the dog days of the campaign enabled the Brooklyn Nets to be in a position to be playing games that matter down the stretch for the first time in years.