The buzzword around the NBA’s playoff-bound teams is ‘consistency'.
The Miami Heat have not been consistent. The Indiana Pacers have not been consistent.
Houston Rockets? They lost three straight; won four straight. The Portland Trail Blazers are 3-3 in their last six. The Chicago Bulls are 5-5 in their last 10.
The only consistent teams among the elite have been the Oklahoma City Thunder and the San Antonio Spurs, which are so consistent they could repair Swiss watches.
The Brooklyn Nets were thisclose to joining the ranks of the Thunder (the Spurs are in a league of their own with 14 straight wins) until the beginning of the week.
Brooklyn rallied from 14 down to win in overtime in Dallas. The next night the Nets coughed up a 22-point lead and lost in New Orleans.
With the less than a month remaining in the season, the teams that can develop consistent success will be a real threat in the playoffs.
In other words, it’s Crunch Time.
The Nets remain among the hottest teams in the league, having won 11-of-14. They had won four straight going into the Pelicans game. A win would have drawn the Nets to within a game of the Toronto Raptors for first place in the Atlantic Division.
Certainly all is not lost for the Nets. They are 27-11 since Jan. 1. And they have done it without Kevin Garnett, who missed the last 14 games with back spasms.
Garnett did not accompany the Nets on this three-game road trip. He will miss Wednesday night’s game in Charlotte but has been making progress. The Nets play again Friday night in Barclays Center against the Cleveland Cavaliers and K.G. might try to give it a go.
The back-to-back games against the Mavs and Pelicans can serve as a clarion call for the Nets:
Do they learn from that back-to-back experience and take it to the next level or do they approach the playoffs with the consistency needed for success? They have 13 games remaining in which to answer that question.
Veteran forward Paul Pierce tried to warn the Nets about avoiding a letdown in New Orleans.
“This is just one, though," Pierce said after the 107-104 OT win in Dallas. “This is just one. This was a gritty game, a playoff-type win. And I tried to tell those guys: the toughest thing now is we have a back-to-back. We’ve struggled in back-to-backs."
“We can’t be overly excited about one win. We can’t have high emotions one night and have an emotional letdown the next. We have to come with the same attitude every game because that’s what it’s going to take in the playoffs.”
The Nets didn’t heed his call. Pierce knows it’s Crunch time, knows this is the time of the year when teams surge toward the playoffs with confidence or stumble in with doubts.
“It’s disappointing, very disappointing,’’ Pierce said after the loss in New Orleans. “We let our guard down in the third, no excuse."
“We were up. That’s when we’ve got a chance to really put a team away. We stopped defending, stopped doing the things that got us the lead. I thought we settled a lot for a lot of jumpers instead of getting the ball into the paint. It allowed them to get back into the game. Once they got their confidence, it’s a ballgame."
What comes first – confidence or consistency? The answer might decide which teams advance in the playoffs.