3 bold Nets predictions for rest of 2022-23 NBA season
The Nets enter their final stretch of the season still growing accustomed to the new Kevin Durant-less roster, but with a 2.0-game lead on the fifth seed.
Coming out of All-Star Weekend, here are three bold predictions for their final 24 games...
Nets make playoffs
Many believe Brooklyn, saddled with a new roster cobbled together via multiple trades of stars in a short window, won’t be able to find the chemistry or shot creation to stay competitive in the playoff picture.
They’re currently in fifth place in the East, 2.5 games out of the play-in tournament and 8.5 ahead of the lottery.
They’ve had mixed results since the deals, but the blueprint is there for a scrappy team that won’t be eliminated easily. Their lead in the standings almost certainly assures them at least a play-in berth, where they have a real shot at upending whoever they face.
Brooklyn’s already topped the Chicago Bulls and Miami Heat, two close rivals, with their new look. Their defense looks incredible, and if they can get enough offense out of Mikal Bridges, Spencer Dinwiddie and company they will be a threat -- especially in a single-game elimination.
Nic Claxton makes All-Defensive First Team
Claxton has been the core of Brooklyn’s defense, with the Nets allowing just 109.8 points per 100 possessions when he plays, which would rank third in the league. He’s averaging 2.6 blocks per game, good for second in the NBA, despite playing fewer than 30 minutes a night.
His -- and the team’s -- numbers are likely to improve with these roster changes, giving him a strong case for All-Defensive First Team. He doesn’t have great odds for Defensive Player of the Year, especially if Brooklyn slides into a play-in spot, but he’s arguably been the best defensive center this season.
Claxton’s stiffest competition will come from fellow East bigs Brook Lopez and Bam Adebayo. The former has the benefit of Giannis Antetokounmpo, which could diminish his case, and Adebayo’s Heat are still scrambling for better positioning.
It’s not the shiniest individual accolade, but a first-team selection for Claxton would be a validation of the leap he’s made this year and of his value to the Nets, less than a year removed from possibly getting traded. This gives them a chip to draw in stars or potentially deal for one in the summer.
Mikal Bridges emerges as an All-Star
It’s too late for Brooklyn Bridges to make his case for playing in Salt Lake City for Team LeBron or Team Giannis, but these last two months of the regular season can change his perception from 3-and-D specialist to legitimate All-Star.
Other teams seem to believe he has it in him, with the Memphis Grizzlies reportedly offering up to four first-round picks for his services. Then, he went and put his unsung offensive talents on display with a career-high 45 points against Miami.
That kind of outburst shouldn’t be expected too often, but it’s no fluke. Bridges is crafty in transition and can knock down the catch-and-shoot three-pointer well.
His short and mid-range game features floaters and pull-up jumpers using his 7-foot-1 wingspan to get over outstretched arms, and will be put to the test over the Nets' remaining games. Combine that with his defensive impact, and the Nets are likely looking at a core rebuilding piece who could challenge for an All-Star spot next season.