Brooklyn has already clinched a playoff berth, and as the team looks to set a new franchise record by winning 21 road games this season—they have already won 19—the next four games still mark an important stretch for the team, but for many reasons.
The one loss on the road trip so far came against the Clippers, a team the Nets defeated at home earlier this season. The Clippers are the caliber of team the Nets must beat if they think they are going to make a deep playoff run.
Even as the season winds down, it’s still been difficult to pinpoint the Nets’ identity. When it seems they will cruise to an easy win—like Sunday night in Phoenix against the Suns—the Nets typically let their opponent gradually get back in the game to make it interesting.
This may work against the Suns and maybe next week against the Cavaliers, but in the playoffs against the Hawks, Pacers, Bulls or Knicks, that style of play just won’t cut it.
And obviously, the Nets would have to play a near perfect series to even think about knocking off the surging Miami Heat.
Are we merely wasting our breath in talking about any other team besides the Heat representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals?
But based on potential, the Nets could very well get their chance in the conference finals against the Heat, barring any major upset at the hands of Miami.
It will take a consistent, four-quarter attack for Brooklyn to accomplish this feat. Playing like they did Sunday night—despite the victory—won’t be enough to get past the aforementioned Eastern Conference playoff teams.
This long road trip came just at the right time for the Nets. The team has played well overall (19-15) on the road this season, and as it stands, Brooklyn would be the No. 4 seed in the conference.
That of course is subject to change, but if that were the case, the Nets would have home-court advantage in the opening playoff round, though they would then have to rely on a lower seeded team to win a series in order to retain home court in later rounds. And that's not likely to happen since a second round playoff matchup would probably see the Nets square off against the Heat.
At this point, all we know for sure is that the Nets will be in the playoffs, and they still have an opportunity to not only win the Atlantic Division but also the conference's second seed.
There are still many “ifs” remaining for the Nets. However, one thing is certain: the team has already clinched a playoff spot, but still has a great opportunity to do a lot more.
For that reason, the Nets need to continue to play with energy and passion. If they think they can just save their intensity for the playoffs and coast through the next three weeks, they could still find themselves as the sixth seed in the conference and without homecourt advantage.
That would be a travesty.
Jim Mancari is a Contributor to SNYNets.com. Follow him on Twitter @JMMancari.