There has not been much reason to watch the Brooklyn Nets this season.
The Nets, going through a painful rebuild without even the promise of their draft pick this year (sent to the Boston Celtics in the Kevin Garnett trade long ago), sank to the bottom of the standings — as everyone seemed to expect at the beginning of the year. The 82-game season has been an exercise in inevitable futility.
Funny thing is no one told Brooklyn that as the season ends. Really all season.
The Nets (19-59) have all but clinched the worst record in the league — a 12-game losing streak by the Phoenix Suns has them within three of that fateful spot with four games to play. But Brooklyn has played with good energy all year. And occasionally it has picked off a team.
Lately that has been happening more often. Brooklyn has won six of its past 10 games and three straight.
That all culminated in an offensive onslaught as they blew out the Philadelphia 76ers 141-118 on Tuesday. The Nets did not score fewer than 30 points in any quarter. And this has been part of a positive trend for Brooklyn.
“It helps our morale,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson told reporters. “I think the fans can appreciate that they see progress.”
Brooklyn is indeed progressing. Being one of the worst teams with one of the worst offenses, the team is turning things around of late to build some momentum.
The Nets rank 27th in offensive rating for the season – scoring 102.3 points per 100 possessions – but are scoring 105.3 points per 100 possessions over the last 10 contests, good for 21st in the league in that span. That is a moderate improvement, but the team is playing much better overall. The results speak for themselves.
That reached its pinnacle in the last two efforts, the blowout win over the Philadelphia 76ers and a 121-111 win over the Orlando Magic on Saturday. The Nets and Magic are set for a rematch Thursday at the Amway Center in Orlando.
The Magic are not racking up the wins quite like the Nets are, but are experiencing some encouraging signs themselves, particularly on offense.
“We’re playing faster,” Magic point guard Elfrid Payton said. “We have wings that can run, looking to shoot and looking to run in transition. (Aaron Gordon) has moved to the 4. There is a lot more space on the court.”
Orlando is 29th in the league in offensive rating for the season, scoring 101.2 points per 100 possessions. Since the All-Star Break, the Magic are scoring 103.1 points per 100 possessions, good for 24th in the league. It is a small progress for a team that also seems angling for lottery position rather than the playoffs this late in the season.
Payton seems to be the biggest beneficiary of this change in offensive mentality. He recorded five triple-doubles since March 1, including a one in Saturday’s loss to the Nets in Brooklyn. He is averaging 13.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 8.2 assists per game since the All-Star break.
But while both the Magic and Nets’ offenses have improved, their overall fortunes have not. Both may be playing fine — Brooklyn better than Orlando right now — but the reality is the teams are both playing their final week of the season.