Don’t look now, but the Brooklyn Nets are turning some heads inside the NBA bubble.
The team clinched the seventh seed on Sunday with a win over the Los Angeles Clippers, just three games after taking down the top Eastern Conference team in the Milwaukee Bucks.
What makes it more remarkable is nobody expected a damn thing from the Nets in the bubble without Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Spencer Dinwidde, DeAndre Jordan and more to opt out.
Yet, under interim coach Jacque Vaughn, the Nets are 6-2 – dating back to mid-March – and playing well above expectations.
“Really showing a competitive spirit about us which is great to see,” Vaughn told reporters after the game, per the New York Post. “A group of guys that are gelling together, appreciate each other and are really playing extremely hard. It’s indeed fun to be a part of.”
While the Nets still have games against the Orlando Magic and Portland Trail Blazers this week, they are set to take on the defending-champion Toronto Raptors once the playoffs begin.
Caris LeVert, who had 27 points and a career-high 13 assists in Sunday’s 129-120 win over the Clippers, believes there is a certain confidence within the team.
“We believe we can play with anybody, regardless of what anybody says,” he told reporters following Sunday’s game. “We know how close we are as a group. Everybody knows how to play the game and everybody wants to win.”
Toronto, on the other hand, also knows a thing or two about exceeding expectations. The Raptors lost Kawhi Leonard to free agency last summer, but are still the second-best team in the East and are 4-1 inside the bubble, with wins over the Lakers and Heat.
“We know they’re a really good team,” LeVert said. “Obviously, they’re playing good basketball, they move the ball really well, they’re a great defensive team, as well. But for us, we feel like it’s about us.
“If we move the ball well, if we play good defense, if we’re locked into the game plan, we can win that series. We truly believe that. So we’re gonna go into that playoff matchup all the way locked in.”