BROOKLYN NETS (30-34, 7th place Eastern Conference)
Where are they now: The odds are stacked against the Brooklyn Nets, who might have the most shorthanded roster among any team that will tip off at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando. Kevin Durant is not coming back for the final sprint, which is no surprise, and star point guard Kyrie Irving also will bypass the action after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder in February.
That left Spencer Dinwiddie as the Nets’ top scoring option, and then he was lost for the remainder of the season after a pair of positive tests for COVID-19 prompted him to opt out. “After another positive test yesterday and considering the symptoms, @BrooklynNets, team doctors and I have decided that it would be in the best interest for me and the team that I do not play in Orlando,” Dinwiddie posted on his Twitter account. “I will be supporting the guys every step of the way!”
The eight-game stint could be important for head coach Jacque Vaughn, who had only two games with his team after the Nets fired Kenny Atkinson on March 7. Vaughn went 2-0 before the season came to an abrupt stop, and he has little to lose in the coming weeks with expectations so low for his injury-riddled team. But it’s little secret that his chances of sticking around as head coach likely depend on how well he connects with Durant and Irving off the court.
“We’ve been locked in,” Vaughn told reporters after a recent practice. “You’ve got music playing in the background. Just good to hear the ball bouncing again.”
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Brooklyn Nets First-half highlights
Brooklyn was 28-34 when it surprised many across the league by dumping Atkinson, who had led the team since the start of the 2016-17 campaign. The season-long absence of Durant and the February surgery for Irving did not make the coach’s job any easier, but Nets executive Sean Marks decided a fresh start was needed.
The Nets remained viable for a playoff spot in a top-heavy Eastern Conference that included only six teams with winning records. Irving (27.4 points per game) and Dinwiddie (20.6) led the team in scoring, while Caris LeVert (17.7) and Joe Harris (13.9) provided good support on the offensive end.
Brooklyn ranked No. 18 in team offense with 110.8 points per game. The team also ranked No. 18 in team defense, allowing 111.4 points per contest.
Brooklyn Nets NBA Bubble Roster Rundown
The Nets almost certainly will lean on LeVert and Harris to lead the offense as the starting shooting guard and small forward, respectively. Chris Chiozza, Tyler Johnson and Garrett Temple also figure to receive ample playing time in the backcourt, with only Temple averaging double digits (10.3) among that group.
Brooklyn plans to start Rodions Kurucs at power forward and Jarrett Allen at center.
To add depth, Brooklyn brought in veteran shooting guard Jamal Crawford. The 40-year-old has not played this season after averaging 7.9 points in 64 games off the bench for the Phoenix Suns a year ago. His arrival thrilled LeVert, who like Crawford played his college ball at Michigan, albeit a decade and a half apart.
“When I was a kid he was like my favorite player,” LeVert said to reporters. “And then obviously when I went to Michigan he reached out to me and we’ve kind of been big brother, little brother, ever since. I think he’ll definitely add some dynamics to this team.”
Brooklyn Nets NBA Bubble Restart Playoff Outlook
Playoff outlook: The Nets will not catch the top six teams in the conference, so the only question is whether they will end up with the No. 7 or 8 seed. Brooklyn enters the fray with a half-game lead over the eighth-place Orlando Magic, along with a six-game advantage over the ninth-place Washington Wizards. Regardless of whether Brooklyn faces the Milwaukee Bucks or Toronto Raptors in the first round, they will be heavy underdogs.
Best bets: It’s not a good sign when the over-under for total wins is set at 2.5 for the Nets, according to Sugar House. Could Vaughn find a way to keep inspiring his players to a 3-5 record or better? Maybe. The Nets’ first two games come against the Magic and Wizards, and if they find a way to win both, they would need only one victory over their next six contests to come through at -115.
Other possible victories on the docket include a game against the Sacramento Kings, another matchup against the Nets, and a final contest against the Portland Trail Blazers.