With ten days remaining before the All-Star break, there are only a few NBA teams we should take seriously as title contenders.
The Brooklyn Nets aren’t among them.
This isn’t to say the team has been a disappointment. Few knew what to make of the new-look Nets entering the 2012-13 season. After a shaky 14-14 start, they’ve bounced back nicely, winning 15 of 21 games under interim coach P.J. Carlesimo.
They’re right where they should be, in the middle of the playoff pack.
The Nets roster lacks the superstar talent of the Knicks and Heat, and it doesn’t feature as many lock down defenders as the Bulls and Pacers. They don’t have a LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony to carry the load when the rest of the team is struggling, and they can’t always rely on their defense and rebounding to pull out close games.
This doesn’t mean the Nets are a bad team. They’re good, just not great. They’ve beaten most of the teams they should beat and have done a nice job protecting their home court. Barring a total collapse, they’ll be playing in the postseason and are definitely capable of winning a first-round series.
But we should temper our expectations.
Right now, Brooklyn is a playoff team, not a championship team.
THE MIAMI HEAT
The Nets have fared poorly against the defending NBA champions this year.
In their first meeting with the Heat last Nov. 7, Brooklyn was blown out 103-73. Dwayne Wade scored 22 points and LeBron James finished two assists shy of a triple-double.
The second meeting on Dec. 1 was a little less one-sided, with Miami winning 102-89. The Nets managed to blow a 14-point lead in that game, shooting 10-of-31 from the field in the second half. Dwayne Wade scored a game-high 34 points.
The third and final regular season showdown between the two teams took place Jan. 30. The Heat celebrated their first trip to the Barclays Center by thrashing the Nets 105-85. LeBron led the way for Miami finishing with 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists.
Miami is the best team in the Eastern Conference.
In order to be the best, you have to beat the best, and the Nets have yet to show they’re capable of doing that this season.
INCONSISTENT PLAY FROM DERON WILLIAMS AND JOE JOHNSON
The Nets can’t afford inconsistent play from Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. There isn’t enough talent on the roster to make up for a lack of production from the team’s two highest-paid players, especially against quality opponents.
In the three losses to the Heat this season, Williams and Johnson accounted for 25 turnovers and shot a combined 34 percent from the field. They accounted for four turnovers and shot a combined 34 percent from the field in a 104-73 loss to the San Antonio Spurs on Dec. 31.
The two played lights out in the Nets biggest road win of the season against Oklahoma City in early January, making 16-of-31 shots (52 points) in the 110-93 victory.
There’s a reason Williams and Johnson have nine All-Star appearances between them. When they show up and play well, the Nets usually win. But neither has shown signs of being able to play consistently enough to lead the team to a championship this season.
BAD CONTRACTS AND A LACK OF ROSTER FLEXIBILITY
Owner Mikhail Prokhorov and general manager Billy King made a big mistake when they signed Kris Humphries to a two-year, $24 million contract this past offseason.
As reported by NBA.com’s David Aldridge, the Humphries deal came after Prokhorov spent $98 million on a new contract for Deron Williams, $60 million on an extension for Brook Lopez and $40 million on an extension for Gerald Wallace.
Humphries averaged a double-double for the Nets last season (13.8 points 11 rebounds), finishing fifth in the league in rebounds per game for a team that finished with a 22-44 record. Now, on a playoff-contending team, the 24-year-old is averaging a meager 6.1 points and 6.6 rebounds in 20.3 minutes per game.
It’s been so bad for Humphries this season that he’s lost playing time and his starting role to Reggie Evans, who may be the most inept offensive player in the league. If Evans is your starting power forward, you’re probably not winning a title.
Unfortunately, Humphries’ contract gives the Nets very little room to negotiate at the trade deadline. No general manager with half a brain would give up anything of significant value and take on Humphries’ contract—not with the way he’s been producing this year.
There’s also the issue of not having a true backup center. As I’ve written many times on Bleacher Report, the Nets starting five should include Andray Blatche at power forward, but he’s been relegated, out of necessity, to playing center in the second unit.
The Nets are one or two moves away from becoming a serious title contender but lack the cap space to make a deal at the deadline. An unprecedented amount of offseason spending by Prokhorov has left Brooklyn in an unfavorable situation.
The Nets currently rank nineteenth in the NBA in points per game (95.5) and twentieth in field goal percentage (.442).
These poor numbers haven’t been helped by the fact that Deron Williams and Joe Johnson have shot well below their career averages.
Brooklyn has also been shooting poorly from beyond the arc, ranking twenty-second in the NBA in three-point percentage.
The two favorites to win the NBA title this season, Miami and Oklahoma City, rank first in field goal percentage and points per game, respectively. Miami, Oklahoma City and New York all rank in the top five in three-point percentage.
POOR RECORD VS. TOP COMPETITION
So far this season the Nets are 10-17 versus teams above .500.
Not being able to win games against the better teams in the league is fine during the regular season, as long as you take care of business in the games you should win. Brooklyn has done that, going 19-3 against teams that are currently below .500.
But when the playoffs arrive, the competition will be fierce, and the Nets haven’t done anything to make us believe they can beat a top team in a seven-game series.
This article originally appeared on Bleacher Report.