Nets will play 5 potential playoff opponents in last games of schedule

Kristian Winfield, New York Daily News
·3 min read

It’s time to start gathering some intel on the opponent, who may resurface down the ever-so shortening line.

The Nets entered Thursday night with just 10 games left on the regular-season schedule. The first six of those games are on the road and five of those 10 are against teams the Nets could host in the playoffs.

Thursday’s game against the Pacers could be the Nets’ first-round playoff series preview, if Indiana survives the play-in tournament and makes it into eighth place. The Nets also play the Milwaukee Bucks twice in a row, and Giannis Antetokounmpo is the Nets’ second-biggest Eastern Conference roadblock — the first is Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid.

The Nets will also play the Chicago Bulls twice, back-to-back matchups against a team playing far below its means. The Bulls are 11th now but are only two games out of 10th, where they’d need to finish to qualify for the play-in.

The Nets are still in the business of worrying about themselves. James Harden remains out with a hamstring strain. Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin are being load managed, with Steve Nash preferring neither play in both games of a back-to-back. Bruce Brown had his knee drained and will be out until the swelling reduces, and Kyrie Irving missed Thursday’s game with groin soreness.

This is a team whose biggest priority has been getting healthy enough to form cohesion between the three of its stars, who have yet to play seven full games together as a trio.

“We wake up this morning and Kai isn’t ready. If you start thinking ahead and planning ahead, you can out think yourself,” Nash said. “So, I think we are just trying to take it day by day and make as sensible decisions as possible for the group every day. We may not get it right but I think we definitely discuss every single day what our approach is today — short term, midterm, long term — and then revert back to the short term because I think that is the nature of the season.

“Things are changing every night and if you try to plan ahead then you are probably going to be caught in a bunch of change that you didn’t foresee.”

The Nets aren’t the only team that’s hurt. Not by a longshot. The Pacers, for example, were without several of their key starters and role players. They started Caris LeVert and Malcolm Brogdon, but also started Edmond Sumner, Oshae Brissett and JaKarr Sampson.

That’s where the team’s scouting department comes into play. Every team has one but some prioritize it more than others. Nash credited the Nets’ scouting department with helping “make sure we’re over prepared come (playoff) time.”

Those departments will note similarities. Injuries to the Pacers saved the Nets from a matchup against Domantas Sabonis, who has punished them in the interior regularly. Antetokounmpo is that same type of punishment applied the full 94-foot length of the floor, and Nikola Vucevic has earned the title of a “Net killer” after dominating them with the Magic over the years. He nearly hung a triple-double on the Nets four games into his trade to Chicago.

Stretch fives have also hurt the Nets over the years, and Brook Lopez, now with the Bucks, is as streaky shooting of a big man as you’ll find.

The playoffs are around the corner, and not around a Brooklyn corner, either. The Nets are just two weeks away from the games that will matter, for the stakes to be higher, where expectations meet harsh reality.

Their last 10 games could give the Nets a last chance to study their potential playoff opponents in real time.