Jim Mancari, SNYNets.comThe Nets enter play tonight trailing the New York Knicks by three games in the Atlantic Division.
That lead has fluctuated all season, but it seems Brooklyn will finally have its chance to catch its crosstown rival.
Over the next 11 days, the Nets will have a relatively weak schedule—on paper, that is—while the Knicks will be heading cross-country for their annual West Coast road trip.
If the ball bounces the right way for the Nets, the team could find itself fighting for the Atlantic Division title down the stretch.
After playing the Wizards tonight, the Nets head south to Atlanta, which will be a tough game. But from there, Brooklyn plays the 76ers on the road and the Hornets at home—both very winnable games.
The Hawks then come to town before the Nets close out their stretch on the road against the Pistons.
Meanwhile, during that same period, the Knicks host the Jazz but then head west to take on the Warriors, Nuggets, Trail Blazers, Clippers and Jazz again.
New York showed last night that it could remain competitive without Carmelo Anthony, who is dealing with a knee injury, but how long can they keep up that pace, especially against some good Western Conference teams?
Of course, the games need to be played on the court, not on paper. If the Nets take care of business against the Wizards, 76ers, Hornets and Pistons and maybe split against the Hawks, the team would put itself in a position to close ground on the Knicks.
The Knicks could very well split the next six games, and if the Nets go 5-1, then Brooklyn would be back within one game.
Let’s not look too far ahead, especially since the Nets suffered an embarrassing loss the last time they played the Wizards.
And even if the Nets are able to gain some ground over the next 11 days, the schedule then turns for Brooklyn as it will have a stretch of eight straight road games including tough matchups with the Mavericks, Clippers, Nuggets and Jazz.
If the Knicks can weather the storm and the Nets go on to continue their inconsistent pace, the hopes of an Atlantic Division crown would essentially be put out of reach.
But if the Nets play to their potential and the Knicks struggle, we are in storm for an exciting race to the finish in the division—something this region has not seen for a long time.
Any way you slice it, the eight game road trip will probably make or break the season for the Nets. Though the team trails the Knicks by just three games in the division, the Nets are just 1.5 games ahead of the Boston Celtics for the seventh seed in the conference. There's still a lot of season left and whether or not the Nets climb in the standings or fall depends on how they fare from here on out.
But in the immediate future, there is certainly an opportunity for the team to gain ground, and it starts with the Washington Wizards tonight.
Jim Mancari is a Contributor to SNYNets.com. Follow him on Twitter @JMMancari.