Brooklyn Nets: High anxiety for Kenny Atkinson as Nets walk gauntlet

Brooklyn Nets Kenny Atkinson (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images)
Brooklyn Nets Kenny Atkinson (Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images) /

Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson isn’t having a lot of fun as he leads his team through the NBA’s toughest finishing schedule with a playoff spot at stake.

If the Brooklyn Nets end up with their first playoff berth since 2015, it will not be a result of a cakewalk schedule to finish the season out.

Far from it.

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According to, no team in the NBA faces a more daunting remaining road to the finish than do the Nets. Not among playoff contenders, mind you … that’s among everyone.

And it’s really not that close. The Nets enter play Monday with eight games remaining against opponents with a combined winning percentage of .641.

Every one of their remaining foes is currently holding a playoff spot or has already clinched a berth and of those eight games, only the season finale against the Miami Heat at Barclays Center on April 10 is against a team currently with a record worse than .500.

The Heat are 36-37 and have won seven of their last 10, so that situation could be different in 2½ weeks.

Brooklyn (38-36) closes out the Western Conference portion of its schedule Monday night against the Portland Trail Blazers at Moda Center, a building where the Nets got a win last season.

At 13-16, the Nets can match their best record against the West since 2014-15 (also their last time in the playoffs) with a win over the Blazers on Monday. Brooklyn hasn’t had a winning record against the vaunted Western Conference since going 18-12 in 2013-14.

From there, the Nets will face a who’s who of Eastern Conference contenders, with six straight games against every team in the East’s upper echelon, including two games with the Milwaukee Bucks, who are close to clinching the NBA’s best overall record.

There are also home games with the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics (second and fifth in the East, respectively) as well as road games against the Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers (third and fourth in the East, respectively)

It’s a brutal finish even in a season that has to be considered a success for the Nets, who have already added 10 wins to last season’s final total. But to come this far and fall short of a postseason bid would be a disappointment, just the same — a bad taste to enter a mostly delicious season.

Coach Kenny Atkinson, now in his third season with the club, is feeling the heat and he’s not particularly enjoying it. It’s a coaching thing; the better the team, the higher the expectations. The higher the expectations, the more pressure there is to deliver.

So to sum it up, you’re either unhappy because you’re losing … or you’re stressed out trying to figure out where the wins you need are going to come from.

Atkinson told Newsday‘s Greg Logan it’s been tough and that “enjoy” would not be his word to describe his first experience as an NBA coach in pursuit of a playoff berth.

"“There is zero enjoyment in this. That’s terrible to say. I love the players, I love being in the locker room and I really enjoy this [media] part too, around people that love the game.“So that’s cool. Just the anxiety and the stress, the goal we want to get to, I still feel like we’re miles away from it. Every game it’s more and more pressure and anxiety and you carry that around every second of the day. So that’s where the ‘enjoy’ kind of goes out the window.”"

After a rough start to their current seven-game road trip, upon which Brooklyn is 2-3 after consecutive wins over the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers, the Nets have reclaimed sixth place in the Eastern Conference, thanks to a two-game slide by the Detroit Pistons.

The Nets are a half-game up on Detroit for the sixth spot and lead eighth-place Miami by 1½ games.

The most important count is the 2½-game lead over the ninth-place Orlando Magic — who have won four straight — and the 3½-game cushion over the 10th-place Charlotte Hornets, winners of three in a row.

While the Washington Wizards (30-44) remain alive, they can no longer dislodge Brooklyn from the playoff picture — the teams split their season series, but Brooklyn has clinched the next tiebreaker, best conference record.

At 25-20 against the East, the Nets can’t lose more than 27 games in the conference. Washington already has 30 losses against the East.

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Brooklyn definitely has a tough road ahead. Then again, if the Nets wind up in the postseason party after playing six of their last eight games against opponents who are among the top eight in the NBA, no one can say they backed their way in.