Spencer Dinwiddie has believed the Nets were a playoff team since the preseason, when he took some grief for boldly insisting multiple times that they would be the “best team in New York” this season.
Are the Nets better than the Knicks? That no longer is a question. The Nets (21-22) are seventh in the Eastern Conference, a half-game behind sixth-place Miami. The Knicks (10-31) are headed for the draft lottery again in another lost season, played entirely without franchise player Kristaps Porzingis thus far.
Dinwiddie and the surging Nets have won 13 of their last 17 games, and the emerging shooting guard believes they will be a playoff team for the first time since 2014.
“Of course. I told you guys that at the beginning of the season and everybody laughed at me,” Dinwiddie said after practice Thursday. “Everybody thought I was talking crazy when I said we were better than the Knicks, and that was one of our milestones we were trying to get to — best in the city and one of the better teams in the conference and hopefully the best team in the league.
“That’s years’ worth of growth I’m speaking about, but that’s what we want to do and what we want to accomplish.”
The Nets should receive a strong barometer of their progress with a stern three-game test beginning Friday in Toronto against the Raptors (31-12), followed by a home game against Boston (Monday) and a game at Houston (Wednesday).
“Yeah. Especially Toronto,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “That’s such a tough place to play. Can we compete at a high level there? We’ve made that huge step, that enormous step, just taking the proper steps. I think it’ll give us a little bit of measurement of where we are.”
The Nets feel better about where they are after Wednesday’s 116-100 win over Atlanta, a game in which they trailed by 19 in the second quarter. Atkinson said it was a game they would have lost in recent years, and perhaps earlier this season.
“You find out that we shouldn’t take anybody lightly, and not to give up I think it was 20 free throws in the first quarter,” Dinwiddie said. “That’s just sloppy play on our behalf, and we can’t dig ourselves a hole like that. It would definitely be foolhardy for us to try to replicate that against the Toronto Raptors.
“We’re going to play one of the best teams in the East, if not the best team in the East, on the road. So it’s a great test, a great barometer for where we’re at and where we’re trying to go.”
Notes & quotes: The Nets will be without forward Jared Dudley on Friday, but Atkinson offered no update after practice. Dudley suffered a hamstring injury against the Hawks.