The pendulum was always going to swing back the other way. The streak of 19 wins in 24 games wasn’t sustainable, especially when the injuries hit. Regression was going to come. It does to even the best teams.
So this recent stretch of five losses in seven games isn’t a grave concern — if the Nets can prevent it from mushrooming. That’s the goal before the All-Star break, now that Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert are back, to put an abrupt end to this downward trend and not cut into the positive momentum they have created for themselves.
“It’s important to finish on a positive note, especially after the Chicago game,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said, referring to Friday’s ugly 19-point loss to the Bulls. “We need to finish strong here, to get confidence going into the break. We got to get as much money as we can get out of these two games.”
It begins Monday night in Toronto against the powerhouse Raptors and continues Wednesday against the tanking Cavaliers, before an eight-day layoff.
It would be unfair to call the Nets’ recent play poor, or even fault them for several of the recent losses. The schedule has been difficult, with setbacks on the road to the Spurs and Celtics and a home defeat to the Bucks — the top team in the Eastern Conference. They’ve been without several key contributors, such as Crabbe, LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie.
Friday’s loss at home to the woeful Bulls, coming off an impressive victory over the contending Nuggets, however, was different. It was a flat defensive performance that marred LeVert’s return and was atypical of how the Nets (29-28) have performed for the better part of two months now.
“The race is getting tighter. We had a little cushion and it’s starting to shrink a little bit,” reserve forward Ed Davis said of the Nets, who entered Sunday in the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference, ahead of both the Hornets and the Heat. “But you always want to go into the break with good vibes and a good feeling. You want to come back and, say, we just lost our last three [games], we don’t want to put that pressure on ourselves. We don’t want to do that.
“We want to go into the break feeling good. We don’t want to go in like, ‘Damn, man, we should’ve beat Toronto. Damn, man, we should’ve had Cleveland.’ You want to go in there like, ‘All right, we changed our season around, we got some good momentum, and we go to bust Portland ass when we get back.’”
Atkinson spoke to the team during Sunday’s practice about how important these next two games are, not to look ahead to the time off. Expectations have been raised due to their play. He wasn’t expecting to be talking playoffs this season. But 57 games into the year, he isn’t hesitant to talk about the postseason, which is what makes these last two games before the break so important.
“We’re in the money time now,” Atkinson said. “There’s expectations now, because we’ve put ourselves in this position.”