When Brook Lopez was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers ahead of the 2017 NBA Draft, the immediate focus shifted to D’Angelo Russell’s new-found playground. Despite General Manager Sean Marks helping Brooklyn crawl out of the trenches, the Nets lacked any reason to tank after shipping its 2018 draft pick to Boston (and subsequently the Cavs). Thus the consensus became that Nets fans could look forward to Russell’s highlights and not much else. Now, a week into the season, the Nets gave an (undermanned) Cleveland Cavaliers team a run for its money, clutching out a 112-107 win at home with Russell watching from the sideline.
In the eight calendar days since the NBA has taken the court for the 2017-18 season, the Nets have managed to stay above .500, a feat not managed since their seventh game of 2014-15. Though the start of every season is fond of building up bold predictions, the Nets have shown a commendable resilience, playing through a season ending injury by starting point guard Jeremy Lin and still managing to lead the league in scoring through five games (123.5pts/game).
The biggest takeaway from Brooklyn thus far is a little thing called group effort. When Phoenix Suns forward Marquese Chriss spoke to sports writer Michael Gallagher, he noted, “ball movement, effort, commitment to defense, defensive rotations and communication,” to be among the squad’s problems. In case you didn’t realize, that’s, like, everything a professional basketball team does.
For the Nets, the fact that a team can contend with a sharpshooting Kyle Korver (22pts, 5-11 from 3), Jeff Green (18pts), Kevin Love (15pts, 12reb) and a triple double from LeBron (29-10-13) all while stifling the remainder of a squad quite capable of contributing a hot hand on any night should signal good things to come. Sure, tanking is generally off the Nets’ radar for this season, given their only hopes at a high draft pick come from Toronto, which should prove to be a top-five team in the East. That said, getting all of Brooklyn’s guys to buy into playing hard in a game that slanted heavily in Cleveland’s favor is a sign that Coach Kenny Atkinson and the team hasn’t rolled over and died just yet.
Of the 11 players that hit the floor for Brooklyn tonight, only Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (drafted 2015), Caris LeVert (drafted 2016) and Sean Kilpatrick (signed 2015) have spent more than these first five games of 2017-18 in Brooklyn. At this point, none of the players have any real reason to buy into the Nets’ system beyond trying to keep up appearances for a future contract, yet the collective effort spearheaded by Spencer Dinwiddie (22pts, 5reb, 6ast and a go ahead 3 with less than a minute to play) proved the city of Brooklyn can rally around its basketball team in earnest for the first time since the first round, seven game series with the Bulls in the 2013 playoffs.
Whether the good fortune in Brooklyn will hold is anyone’s guess, but knowing D’Angelo Russell might not be the team’s last stand should, at the very least, keep the Eastern Conference on its feet.