You can argue that the Brooklyn Nets are in the best possible position for this year’s playoffs: no pressure.
This is only year three of their rebuild. Kenny Atkinson took over in 2016, when the Nets were a 20-win worst team in the league for his first head coaching campaign.
This is the Nets first playoff berth since 2015, and that season they were actually eliminated by the Atlanta Hawks with Atkinson an assistant coach on Mike Budenholzer’s staff.
Atkinson wouldn’t reveal secrets, obviously, but shortly before hopping on the team bus for the short trip to Philadelphia, Atkinson did assure everyone that there’s a plan in place and that his players are ready, even if only six of them have tasted the preseason before.
Saturday may be a new experience for all but a handful of his guys, but Atkinson believes and they are prepared.
“We did a couple breakdowns today, just emphasizing what we need to do,” he said. “Obviously, we’ve got to be able to adjust a little sooner.”
Other than Allen Crabbe, who Atkinson doesn’t expect anyone to see again this season, the Nets are at full strength. And they need to be, these playoffs matter even if Brooklyn is playing with house money.
But don’t tell them that after their game one upset over the Sixers in Philadelphia.
On Saturday, the six-seeded Nets upended the third-seeded Sixers in Philly 111-102. In the game, the Nets exploited the Sixers’ inability to shoot their way back into the game after the Nets mounted a lead as large as 17 points.
The Sixers shot 3-of-25 from three, where the Nets, overachieving to a 42-40 regular season record, shot 11-of-26.
“We have nothing to lose,” said center Ed Davis after the win. “If we go out and get swept, that’s what’s supposed to happen.”
Both teams went 34-22 to end their respective regular seasons following December 5, where Brooklyn sat at 8-18. Maybe it’s simply Brooklyn’s time.
Coach Atkinson certainly thinks it’s possible.
“We weren’t rattled,” he said. “You’re afraid with this Philadelphia crowd and the team they have that they’re going to knock you out of the box quick. I thought that we kind of took a couple of punches from them, took a couple of runs and still kept our composure. That’s big progress for us.”
As does the team’s All-Star, D’Angelo Russell, who led with 26 points.
“We want to go all the way honestly,” he said. “So whatever playoff experience I get and can bring back to the regular season next year, that’s what I want to do.
“We’ve got guys over here, too,” Russell said confidently before heading off to Philly on Friday. “We’re ready, man. I don’t think size matters in game like this, valuing the little things and attention to detail is what’s going to get us going.”