The Brooklyn Nets clawed their way into the playoffs with a determined end-of-season push and a little bit of luck along the way. Their next challenge: the Atlanta Hawks. Being the eighth seed in the NBA’s Eastern Conference is a perennial acknowledgement of a less-than-average team that gets an early bounce; the Nets hope to avoid that fate against an overachieving Hawks squad.
Atlanta posted an impressive 60-win season, the second best record in the NBA, and flew under the radar with a balanced offense and noticeable lack of a star player. The Nets, on the other hand, snuck into the postseason with a 38-44 record, just barely eking past a rallying Pacers team and the Eastern Conference defending champions, the Miami Heat.
There is something more to the Nets team than meets the eye; despite a poor record and inconsistency across the board, they have an opportunity to surprise a team brimming with confidence and minimal playoff experience. The Nets have a chance to bruise down low. Center Brook Lopez has been one of the few bright spots for the team and will look to take advantage of an undersized Al Horford in the post. Another important factor is that the Hawks are banged up coming down the stretch. The recent loss of wingman Thabo Sefolosha to a broken leg following a nightclub incident in Manhattan will surely hurt their perimeter offense. Three-point marksman Kyle Korver is just coming back into the fold after coming off of an injury. Paul Millsap is battling an aching shoulder, and Pero Antic has become ill and missed the final game of the season.
The Nets have a veteran presence in point guard Deron Williams, shooting guard Joe Johnson and sixth man Jarrett Jack. The bench is also filled out with young, hungry talent that can flip a switch in a game, including players like Markel Brown, Mason Plumlee and Thaddeus Young.
What will hurt Brooklyn the most is their inability to hold a lead in the playoff atmosphere. A variety of factors can spark an opposing team run. If they hope to advance, the Nets will need to jump out to an early lead, as playing catchup will not yield a second round berth. The Hawks’ run-and-gun offense will put a lot of pressure on a group that plays lazy defense until it’s too late. The Hawks boast a slew of all stars; the Nets cannot say the same, but with a clean slate there really is no telling what they can accomplish. While they may only snag a game or two, there is the small chance that if they draw enough focus from head coach Lionel Hollins, Brooklyn will see their first real success since the move from New Jersey.
There truly is no telling what this Nets team will do. They performed under pressure in the last leg of the season and have proved that they are unpredictable with their backs against the wall. It is up to the Hawks to use their voracious fan base and home court advantage wisely and not crack under the pressure of a real title shot. Atlanta is looking strong, opening up a 2-0 advantage over the Nets as the two teams set to square off in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn for game three on Saturday.