March 19, 2010
The regular season has about 3 1/2 weeks left, and in that span, the New Jersey Nets will have 14 chances to win three games. The team wants to win three games because it would prefer not to break or tie the NBA's long-standing record for single-season futility, the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers' 9-73 record.
This is a tall order, though. Three wins in 14 tries might not seem like much to even the nastiest bits this league has to offer - the Timberwolves, the Pacers, Golden State - but when you've won just seven times in 68 tries, securing a win a week to close out the season is no sure thing.
Do you think they can do it? I'm not entirely sure myself.
So many things have to fall into place for a team like New Jersey to win in this league. And as we've seen time and again this season with the Nets, sometimes that coin inexplicably lands on tails 10 times in a row. Or 61 times in 68 flips. I've never been good at analogies.
Let's just go over the schedule, if you wouldn't mind.
Toronto's up next on Saturday. The Raptors can't defend to save their playoff lives, the offense comes and goes at times, but will it go long enough for the Nets to score more points than Toronto over a 48-minute span? See where I'm going with this?
The Heat come after that, but even with this team's offensive lapses, will they clang enough to give New Jersey a fair shot at a 'W?'
Sacramento? Pretty bad, but not that bad.
Detroit? Pretty bad, possibly that bad.
Spurs? No way. Suns? They just hung 152 on Minnesota; they're not going to be that unfocused. And even if they were, would it be enough for New Jersey to take advantage?
Hornets? Nah. Wizards? Possibly.
Bucks, Bulls, Pacers? Loss, win, win? Have I just talked myself into giving New Jersey 10 wins?
Bobcats, and then the Heat to end this miserable season. Two teams desperately trying to stay in the playoff bracket. They're not sitting down.
The Bulls? They can't help but sit; the team is too injured to field a starting lineup that would be hilarious if it weren't so crushingly sad. The Pacers? They shoot themselves in the foot with iffy rotation choices time and again, but is that worth relying on for a win?
So, the Nets could pull it out. But they'll have to be lucky.
Teams like the Bulls, as banged-up as they are, still have pride. Chicago gave both Memphis and Dallas a terrific fight this week, refusing to roll over even as the talent matchups were incredibly one-sided. And though the Bulls didn't show much pride in letting New Jersey down them on their home floor last winter, they won't be willing to save the season for the Nets and hand them that ninth or 10th win.
New Jersey is going to have rely on ill health from its opponents, and good health from its own roster. Topping that, I'm sorry, but the coaching situation in New Jersey right now is nonexistent. I'm not going over the top when I tell you the Nets barely run any plays. So you have a crummy team without much tactical meat behind it (mmm, tactical meat), working against squads that don't want to be the trivia answer that prevents the Nets from becoming a trivia answer.
And, put it this way: Flip Murray could start for the Nets, too. This team is awful. Brook Lopez(notes) can play and Devin Harris(notes) helps when he's not injured or sick, but beyond someone like Courtney Lee(notes) (maybe the sixth-best player on a good team) you have a litany of 10th men masquerading as rotation parts. It's such a steep dropoff, with so many poor players having to play minutes they just shouldn't be receiving, that this team can't help but start games with one foot in the grave.
The future is, of course, bright. Nothing could be any darker than this I submit, but draft picks and cap space and new owner and a Newark location should help change this franchise for the better. But this couldn't have been what current GM Rod Thorn had in mind when he set to rebuilding (two years too late, it should be noted) last summer. We knew the Nets were going to stink this year, but to make it past St. Patrick's Day with single-digit wins?
And unless a lot of things fall New Jersey's way, it'll likely sustain until the end of the year. Even as teams start to take it easy, and with some real cupcakes on the schedule, so much has to go right for the Nets to just win one time in 14 tries, much less three times.
I'd call it a situation worth monitoring, but I wouldn't wish required viewership of Nets games on my worst enemy.