April basketball should be treated with the same healthy skepticism as September baseball, and taken with a grain of salt. But the Nets’ slow, inexorable improvement is starting to show.
Despite another losing season, the Nets are 4-2 in their past six and 6-5 in their past 11. With just two games left — including’s Monday home finale against Chicago — this is the progress coach Kenny Atkinson wanted to see to close to this season and hopefully carry over into next.
“It just boosts our confidence,” Atkinson said. “There was a lot of doubt when we were losing those close games. I know [the media] talked about it with them, and I read it in the press, you can feel it. So to be able to close out some games, it really means a lot for our growth.
“It’s what we’ve asked of them, let’s finish this season on a positive note, let’s keep trending upward. I like that we’re moving toward 30 wins. I know that’s not possible, but it’s very encouraging for our future.”
At 27-53, the Nets’ present is another losing campaign. But they’ve surpassed Vegas’ projections, and their seven-game improvement from last season is among the best in the NBA. It offers a little hope for upward mobility.
Sure, it’s baby steps compared to Philadelphia’s quantum 21-game leap. But since the Nets don’t have their own pick until 2019, and general manager Sean Marks insists they won’t tank next season, baby steps forward are better than stagnation.
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After posting the NBA’s worst record last season, they were just a game out of the league cellar on March 16. But they’ve climbed into a tie with Chicago for seventh-worst, playing those Bulls on Monday and at potentially resting Boston on Wednesday. Only a game behind the Knicks, a win Monday would give the Nets their first three-game winning streak of the season and a shot at finishing ahead of seven teams.
“We’re eighth-worst!” is hardly a rallying cry. But it would be clear progress.
“It’s important for us. How do you handle a little success?” Atkinson said. “Our challenge is how are we going to handle this, beating Milwaukee and having a good win in Chicago on the road? What does that look like in Brooklyn? How do these guys handle success, because sometimes you relax mentally. Sometimes you get off your habits after a win, so hopefully we stay on it and we look forward to seeing how we react against Chicago at home.”
The Nets hit 24 3-pointers in Saturday’s 124-96 win over the Bulls, falling one shy of tying the NBA record when Spencer Dinwiddie’s attempt rattled out. And they did it with drives and ball movement, their 36 assists tying their most over the past four seasons. They have 66 in the past two games, their best two-game total since 2007-08 and an auspicious sign for building camaraderie and chemistry they hope can carry over.
“It was good to have one of those games where everybody was having a good time, and I feel like we deserve to do the same thing on Monday,” Allen Crabbe said.
“It’s scary. The energy is different,” Rondae Hollis-Jefferson said.
Caris LeVert (right foot tendinitis) is doubtful for Monday, while DeMarre Carroll (left hip strain) and Isaiah Whitehead (right wrist) are out.
Golden State cut Omri Casspi. The Nets had almost inked Casspi last summer, which begs the question of whether they’ll look at the 6-foot-9 stretch four, who is shooting 58 percent and 45.5 percent from deep.
Nets scouts didn’t have to go far Sunday to attend the Jordan Brand Classic at Barclays Center, eyeing prospects for 2019 when they finally have their own pick.