EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- As he scanned the Eastern Conference standings posted in the locker room Thursday, Andray Blatche couldn't believe what he was seeing.
"I looked and I got to counting and I'm like, '[We're] in the eighth seed?'" Blatche said. "It's encouraging and at the same time it's crazy. I couldn't believe it. I had to make sure they did it right."
Yes, Andray, those standings were correct. Despite their 14-21 record, the Nets currently own the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference as they prepare for Friday's tilt against Miami. The Nets are 3.5 games behind Toronto in the Atlantic Division, and just a half game ahead of Detroit for the final spot in the conference.
"We're trying to get a higher seed. We're trying to get better," Blatche said. "We're not really satisfied with being the eight seed right now."
Coming into the season, the expectation was the Nets would battle for a top four seed in the East. Instead, due to poor play and injuries, the Nets have spent more time closer to the bottom four teams in the conference than the top quartet. They're currently closer in the standings to Milwaukee, the East's worst team, than Indiana, the top team.
The Nets have surged in the standings recently with their season-best four-game winning streak that includes victories over Oklahoma City and Golden State. That streak will be put to the test when the defending champs come to town, although the Nets already have bested them.
"It's about time we found our identity. It's about time we figured out what it takes," Blatche said. "Me personally, I thought it would be sooner than later. We got it. We know what it takes. We know what we got to do. Now it's pretty much doing it every night."
TOUGH TASK: One of the factors in the Nets' hot streak is the play of forward Andrei Kirilenko, who has missed the majority of the season with back spasms. Since returning Dec. 31, Kirilenko has provided a spark for the Nets, galvanizing the team on both ends of the court.
Against Miami, Kirilenko will have the tough task in guarding the reigning MVP, LeBron James. Kirilenko said part of what makes James such a tough assignment is he's able to do it all -- shooting, rebounding, dribbling -- while also facilitating his team. They key is to prevent James from getting the ball so he's not able to run the Heat's offense.
Kirilenko stressed that one player can't do it all defensively against James.
"I will do my best. Against those type of players it has to be a team effort. Not just a one-man effort," Kirilenko said. "We have to be playing the same defense we played last night [against Golden State], not the beginning of the game but the last three quarters. That's how we're supposed to be defensively."