The Brooklyn Nets have been smoking hot this year. Roaring to life this season and setting the league on fire with their explosive superstars, the Nets have flat-out dominated teams with their offensive fortitude and have not slowed down. Despite having one of the most inconsistent starting lineups throughout the season due to injuries, mid-season trades, and personal, off-court circumstances, the Nets still managed to somehow muster a stellar 48-24 record on the season, clinching second overall in the East to secure a big playoff berth.
But what remains to be so impressive about the success of this team is how it has been executed through not only their core big three but also from their various different role-players as well. To see returning superstar Kevin Durant average a deadly stat line of 26.9 ppg, with 6.7 rpg and 5.6 apg in 35 games played, from Kyrie Irving becoming only the 9th player in NBA history to achieve a ‘50/40/90’ shooting performance on the season, to Joe Harris who shot 50.5% from the field and 47.5% from 3-PT range in 69 games, to Jeff Green’s, Bruce Brown’s and Landry Shamet’s ability to do all the little things this team needs on the floor, the Nets found various ways to win throughout the entire season, using just about everyone on their roster to achieve that goal.
However, despite all the success this team has accomplished under first-year head coach Steve Nash, the biggest, lingering obstacle left for the Nets to hurdle, comes down to how they are able to translate their seasonal success into the playoffs. Playoff basketball is gritty and intense, where not only do you face some of the best teams and players in the NBA, but you face them 4-7 games straight per round, home and away. And that level of flawless basketball that teams need to produce in order to win becomes that much harder to execute on a daily basis, especially when up against strong defensive teams who know what to watch for and adjust to after playing their opponent a couple of times in a row.
Although the Nets have great experience and talent all over their team, there are three major factors they will need to surmount if they want a chance to make their first Finals appearance in 18 years. And considering the severity and magnitude of these hurdles, it seems unlikely that the Nets will be able to get past the Eastern Conference Finals and could potentially come up short in the Semifinals. Though the Nets have proven that nothing is impossible, overcoming all of these challenges in the playoffs is simply far too grand and difficult of a feat, even for a team that’s as strong as the Nets. Without further ado, here are the three major concerns the Nets face in the playoffs:
3. Lack Of Chemistry Between Big Three: Though injuries are hard to avoid, lack of chemistry is a presiding reality with the Nets big three that could prove to be very costly during the playoffs. Playing a total of eight games together during the regular season along with two playoff games under their belts so far, Durant, Irving, and James Harden have not played a whole lot together, which has hindered their ability to garner a resilient chemistry level between the three of them. This might not be so problematic for a big three-unit that has a greater role-playing presence than the Nets do. But because the Nets have three mega scorers and ball-possession-oriented superstars, the balance between the need to score and unselfish play amongst each other is vital for them to strengthen and maintain, which doesn’t seem realistic to achieve during such a small window of time. Naturally, this concern will only get better with more playing time together, particularly since starters tend to play significantly bigger minutes during the postseason as well. However, great chemistry is developed with time, and this big three has not gotten much of that. Just take a look at the Miami Heat when they assembled their big three; they played a lot more games together and still came up short in the Finals back in 2011. Same thing with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ big three prior to winning their first championship in 2016; they didn’t win their first title with their big three until a year after they all joined the same team. If none of these epic franchises could muster a title in their first seasons with their respective big threes, it’s hard to envision that being any different with the Nets this season.
2. Poor Defense: Quite frankly, this is debatably the biggest issue for the Nets. Outside of Durant, Harris, Green, Brown, and Nicholas Claxton, the Nets don’t have anyone else who really plays good perimeter or interior defense, and it showed all season. Finishing the year in 21st overall in points allowed with a hefty total of 114.1 per game, the Nets also allowed their opponents to shoot just about 46% from the field and over 35% from the 3-PT line (ESPN). Though DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin do provide decent support inside, playing behind guards like Irving and Harden is a very difficult task, considering how often both guards struggle with keeping their opponents in front of them. Achieving regular-season success with a defense as poor as this is one thing. But when it comes to the playoffs, more or less the Finals, defense is what wins games, and the Nets don’t have much to show for on that front. If they come across teams like the 76ers, the Bucks, and even the Hawks or Knicks, the Nets are going to have to figure out how they not only can outscore their opponents every night but, in the process, will have to do so against some of the best defenses and defensive players in the league. And even for a big three as good as this one, that’s a huge challenge and a lot of pressure to take on every time they step on the court.
1. Tough Eastern Conference Opponents: You would think this wouldn’t be a major concern for the Nets, considering they are the second overall seed in the Eastern Conference. But, believe it or not, the Nets have a handful of opponents that could thwart their run to the Finals. If all goes well against the Celtics, the Nets would be in line to face the winner of the Miami Heat/Milwaukee Bucks series. With Miami down 3-0, it appears that the Nets will be in line to face the Bucks, which is a very concerning matchup. Losing back-to-back games against Milwaukee towards the end of the season, the Bucks have an offense that is debatably just as good as the Nets and was number one in points per game this season (ESPN). In addition, they also have much better defensive players in guys like Giannis Antetokoumpo, Jrue Holiday, P.J. Tucker, Brook Lopez, and Khris Middleton. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg. If the Nets manage to get past the Bucks, there’s a very good chance they’ll be in line to face the 76ers, a nightmare matchup for any team. Possessing the deepest, most complete and well-rounded lineup in the NBA, the 76ers simply have it all. From an MVP candidate in Joel Embiid, to a defensive player of the year candidate in Ben Simmons, to then an outstanding two-way threat in Tobias Harris, along with 3-PT snipers in Seth Curry, Danny Green, and Furkan Korkmaz, the Nets really don’t have an answer against this team. If the Knicks or the Hawks perchance make it past the 76ers, the Nets will certainly have better odds to make their first Finals appearance. But even then, both the Hawks and Knicks bring the offensive skill and defensive fortitude to overthrow the Nets, presenting Brooklyn with a difficult finish either way.
In short, there’s a lot that has to go right for the Nets to make it to the Finals this year, more or less win their first title. With a chemistry level that lacks the essence of time and a defensive scheme that desperately needs toughness and better skill both inside and out, the Nets will have a hard time surpassing deeper and stouter teams within their own conference and certainly want to avoid a long series with both the Bucks and the 76ers. If they somehow survive against the Bucks and avoid the 76ers, the Nets potentially have a shot at making a Finals appearance. However, despite all their success this season, the magnitude of these core concerns are far too large and imposing for the Nets to fix during the stretch of the postseason. And an early exit in the playoffs seems inevitable.