Three Man Weave

Three Man Weave: Week 25 Edition

The Nets gon’ Nets, I guess. Two-plus months of solid play had catapulted the Brooklyn Nets back into the Eastern Conference’s playoff picture, despite the team’s underwhelming (and under .500) record and inconsistent track record through a significant stretch (i.e. most) of their 2014-15 season. It was fun, and we all got to make “the East, amirite?” jokes, but a six-game winning streak and some inspired recent play gave the Nets some pretensions to legitimacy after claiming the seventh seed and playoff tiebreakers over the Indiana Pacers and Charlotte Hornets. A .500 stretch in their last six games put them into a tie with those Pacers for the East’s eighth seed, with two games left to the season.

Let’s break the fourth wall, here. One of the quirks to writing this Three Man Weave column every week is the time-sensitive nature to the process, where I compose and send out the week’s questions each Sunday evening, and put the intro and the rest of it together on Monday, to post Tuesday. Often it’s innocuous, and outside of the random Monday night game it never really affects the finished column, but the combination of a Monday matchup with the Chicago Bulls and the playoff implications this week presented a tough situation for the Week 25 Weave.

When this batch of questions went out, the Nets were losing to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday afternoon, and in a tie with the Boston Celtics with 42 losses, with the Celtics ahead as the seventh seed due to their season tiebreaker. From there, the Nets proceeded to lose by double-digits, the Celtics won in Cleveland by double-digits, and the Indiana Pacers withstood Russell Westbrook to even their record with Brooklyn’s. Cue more talk of the Nets controlling their playoff destiny, after securing the tiebreaker over Indiana and then, two weeks later, finding themselves needing that tiebreaker.

A win Monday against Chicago would have momentarily eased the pressure after the Bucks loss and flipped it to Indiana to win their next game (Tuesday at home against the Washington Wizards) to maintain positioning. Unfortunately, by the time I sat down to write this intro the Nets were already down double-digits to the Bulls, and would go on to lose 113-86. If the Indiana Pacers win Tuesday against the Wizards and then the next night in Memphis - regardless of what the Nets can muster against Orlando Wednesday - they’ll take the eighth seed and the Nets’ season will be finished. The Nets controlled their own destiny, until they lost it.

Now they’ll be forced to play catch-up, by beating the Orlando Magic in their final game of the season, and hope for some luck, in the form of a Pacers loss in their last two. The Wizards are pretty locked into the fifth spot in the East and a first-round series with the Toronto Raptors - with an outside shot at the Bulls - and might not be too motivated against Indiana and to end their season. The Memphis Grizzlies reside in the Western Conference, where a half-game in the standings currently separates four teams, and will be a tough out, per usual. So there’s a chance here for Brooklyn, assuming they win Game 82 against the young and athletic Magic.

If there’s anything we’ve learned after 98.7% of the NBA season is that the Brooklyn Nets are reliable, and have no trouble at all against young and athletic teams… Still, the Nets are 2-0 against Orlando, with a +10 point differential, and should be motivated to make the playoffs or at least not end the season on a three-game losing streak. As to whether that will be enough to prolong their season and scrap a playoff appearance is now, unfortunately, up to the Indiana Pacers.

So since Week 25’s questions went out Sunday, mid-Bucks blowout, they’re tinged with playoff implications, under the assumption that the Brooklyn Nets were a relative lock to take the eighth seed, at least. In my rookie season of blogging, I apparently forgot to read my own team’s scouting report. This could look awkward if the Pacers prevail to make the playoffs in place of the Nets, but in our final Three Man Weave of the season, our experts talk Nets strengths and weakness, relative to a potential first-round playoff series, before giving their own 2015 playoff predictions to win the Eastern Conference and the NBA championship.

If the Brooklyn Nets can’t catch the appropriate luck and make the playoffs, then this will be the last 3MW of the 2014-15 season, until an Offseason Edition at some point this spring/summer. Until then, thanks for stopping by every week, and thank you to my panel of experts here at Brooklyn’s Finest for contributing throughout all 25 weeks of this Nets season. Look for my review of Wednesday’s season finale against the Orlando Magic and then all of our playoff/season-in-review pieces in the next couple of weeks.

Upcoming games:

Monday, vs. Chicago, 7:30 pm - L 86-113

Wednesday, vs. Orlando Magic, 8 pm

1.) It’s been all good for the Brooklyn Nets in the last month to their season, but what areas do the Nets need to shore up entering the 2015 playoffs?

Brady Jennings: I think by now the Nets are who they are and one or two tweaks won’t help too much in the playoffs. Continue to get Lopez the ball and hope you can steal a game from Atlanta, but I really don’t see that happening. However, I’m also the same guy who said a couple weeks ago there was no chance the Nets could make the playoffs.

Jonah Jordan: The Nets need to be more consistent if they make the playoffs. They aren’t in better position due to their inconsistent play. They can’t put together four consistent quarters of quality play. It’s a serious problem. In the playoffs going you can’t lose control of games in one quarter like the Nets do. Lionel Hollins’s squad has to come out of halftime with force and not get down 20 points in the third quarter.

Jeremy Briggs: On the heels of two awful performances, it appears that the Nets need to improve in every facet of the game. But if I am forced to choose an area for them to focus on (assuming they do make the playoffs) it needs to be team defense. Atlanta has picked them apart with ball and player movement in their past meetings, so for the Nets to have any chance (at stealing one game in the series) the defense will need to be five guys on a string.

2.) What strengths do the Nets bring to a playoff series? In a best-case scenario, what’s their playoff ceiling? (Feel free to evaluate that in total wins.)

Jennings: I kinda touched on this above but I see zero to one playoff win as their playoff ceiling.  Brooklyn’s lack of athleticism has killed this team all season and Atlanta is a terrible match-up for them.  Atlanta beat the Nets in the Joe Johnson trade, and they will beat the Nets in the first round soundly, assuming Boston doesn’t drop to the 8th seed.

Jordan: The best-case scenario for the Nets would be two wins in a playoff series. Brook Lopez is their best advantage in a series. If he comes out and plays as well as he can for a whole playoff series they may be able to win a couple games. That is if Deron Williams and Joe Johnson can show up to play, which could be more likely if Lopez plays as well as he was a few weeks ago.

Briggs: The Nets’ biggest strength is probably the big-game experience from some of their veterans (Joe, Deron, Jack, etc.) as well as Coach Hollins. These guys understand a playoff atmosphere, and that can rub off on inexperienced rookies like Markel and Bojan.

However, experience will only take them so far. I alluded to it in my previous answer, I think their absolute ceiling is stealing a single game against the Hawks. The Nets are a model of inconsistency and matchup rather poorly against Atlanta’s Spurs-ian offense.

3.) Non-Nets question, but who wins the Eastern Conference? How about the NBA championship?

Jennings: Eastern Conference? I’m going with the Atlanta Hawks here. I’ve been high on them for most of the season, though on Paul’s 50th podcast anniversary I was worried about the Bulls. Chicago hasn’t looked great over the past month, but they’re still a tough out as always. I think we’re headed for an Atlanta/Cleveland conference final match-up. Even though Cleveland has the best player in the world, I think the rest of their roster won’t stack up during the playoffs. Mozgov is underrated but a Love/Mozgov or Thompson/Mozgov combination will get exposed by Millsap and Horford. The narrative that Atlanta doesn’t have playoff experience is very overplayed. Yes they haven’t been to the conference finals or NBA Finals, but the last time Atlanta missed the playoffs was 2006-2007. They won’t be phased by the moment and will play like they have all season come playoff time.

NBA Championship: GO SPURS GO. The Spurs are coming. Winners of 11 in a row as of Monday night. Leonard has finally looked like the Finals MVP and star player that he is. Everyone is super high on GSW; they have been unbelievable this season, but until Parker, Manu, Pop, and Old Man Riverwalk are retired and broken down for good, I’m taking San Antonio. Atlanta vs San Antonio, master vs apprentice; what a great story line that Finals would be (for people who actually watch the NBA; the casual fan probably wouldn’t like it). I’m taking Spurs 4-2 over Atlanta in the NBA Finals. Duncan gets his 6th ring and officially is recognized as the 3rd-greatest NBA player of all time. (For what its worth he’s already got that spot in my book). I don’t want to turn this weave post on a Nets’ website into a Spurs love-fest so I’ll just say again: GO SPURS GO.

Jordan: I think the Cleveland Cavaliers will win the Eastern Conference. They have been the best team in the East for the last two months. It’s going to be incredibly tough for anyone to beat them. They are also my favorites to win the NBA Championship. I refuse to bet against LeBron James.

Briggs: The homer in me wants to choose the Cavaliers for both, but I’ll go with a toss-up between Cavs/Hawks in the ECF, with the Warriors eventually winning it all.