Reeling Nets bracing for biggest test in this next stretch

The Nets knew this five-game stretch was going to be rough, but it’s gone far worse than they could have possibly imagined.

They have dropped four straight games and 11 of their past 13. And that’s with LeBron James and the Lakers looming on Thursday, closing out a tough grind that’s been taking its toll on their psyche and their season.

“It definitely is, especially this week and last week. It’s been a huge test for us,” Jarrett Allen said. “And Thursday we play the Lakers, it’s going to be another test.

“For us, this is where we want to be. We want to be playing the top teams, we want to be able to compete, so this is like you said a test.”

The Nets are in a stretch against five straight top teams, and have been weighed, measured and found wanting, with losses to Utah, Philadelphia (twice) and Milwaukee. James and Co. are next, with DeAndre Jordan out, and Kyrie Irving (hamstring) in doubt.

“We’ll keep battling. It’ll turn. We knew this was going to be a tough stretch. It’s too bad we couldn’t steal one. We had opportunities,” Kenny Atkinson said. “We’re just not getting over the hump. We’ve been doing a lot of good things, but we’re not finishing like we need to.”

Like blowing a fourth-quarter lead last Wednesday in Philadelphia, then flushing another in Monday’s rematch. At 18-24, the Nets are hanging onto the eighth seed in the East but fading fast.

“When we have championship aspirations — that’s where we want to be — how do we get there? Do we want to be the eighth seed? The seventh seed?” Irving asked rhetorically. “But you’re able to be real with the team you have here, and to collectively, cohesively come together as a group. That’s what you figure out.

“But the goals are still to win a championship. I don’t come in every day to frickin’ be mediocre or to be in the middle of the standings. No.”

Kyrie Irving
Kyrie IrvingGetty Images

Right now, the struggling Nets are looking up at mediocre, which would be an improvement.

The Nets entered Tuesday nine games behind Indiana for the No. 6 spot in the East, and just three ahead of ninth-place Detroit. But the way they’re scuffling through the season, Atkinson admitted it’s way too premature to even think about the postseason.

“Too early,” Atkinson said. “It’s too early to think [playoffs]. Our play will determine that. I’m really process-oriented. We have to do certain things to get there. Looking ahead to that would be premature.”

Granted, the Nets overcame an 8-18 start last season with a 34-22 finish to make the playoffs, but sports are like stocks in that past performance is no guarantee of future results.

While the Nets snuck into the postseason five years ago at 38-44, they’re actually on an even worse pace this time around.

Right now, Brooklyn is on pace to go 35-47. Nobody has made the playoffs with that poor a mark since the 1995 Celtics. No team has qualified with worse since the Spurs seven years earlier.

None of this suggests the Nets will — or even should — make a big panic move. This roster is built for four-year stability, so any deadline deals will likely just be churning the bottom of the roster.

The lineup isn’t likely to improve, but the health and chemistry must.

“We don’t have time for a mental struggle,” Spencer Dinwiddie said. “Obviously our season’s been very up and down with injuries and lineups and all of that, so we have to continue to come together as a group. Our focus can’t be external, it has to be internal.”

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