NEW YORK -- Five long months after huddling together for the first time in training camp at Duke University, Jason Kidd’s Brooklyn Nets finally know what it’s like to be a winning team.
The surging Nets (30-29) own a winning record for the first time this season after handling the Memphis Grizzlies, 103-94, at Barclays Center. And they’re looking and feeling every bit like a winning team.
“I think we match up with anybody in the Eastern Conference from top to bottom,” said Paul Pierce, who has helped spark a four-game winning streak with his leadership and energy. “We don’t know what the seed is going to be now. It changes every week. Top to bottom we feel like we match up with anybody and we have the necessary experience to move forward no matter who we play.”
The streaking Nets have won 10 of their last 14 overall, but their last two wins have been particularly impressive as the Nets defensively handled the Bulls (34-27) and Grizzlies (34-26). And they did so with Kevin Garnett out due to back spasms.
Their confidence grows with each win, and the Nets are still far from a finished product. They are prone to the occasional hiccup, such as their 44-point loss at Portland last week –- their last loss. They also have lulls during games, such as on Wednesday night when the Nets opened with a blistering 21-2 run, only to see Memphis cut it to four in the second quarter. And even though the Nets later built a 30-point lead in the third, the Zach Randolph-less Grizzlies got within nine with 3:28 left.
But back in November and December, the Nets would fold whenever an opponent made a run at them similar to Wednesday's charge from the Grizzlies.
Now, the Nets are mentally tougher. And defensively, they are showing an ability to make up for their lack of size inside and rebounding with active defense.
The Nets have forced a total of 49 turnovers for a combined 59 points in the last two games. They have recorded 14-plus steals in three straight games -- something only one other team (Denver in 2011) has done in the last 10 seasons. They're getting contributions from all over the roster -- new acquisition Marcus Thornton gave the Nets a big lift off the bench with 20 points against Memphis -- and their trust level is at an all-time high.
If they continue to play strong defense and fight consistently, the Nets will definitely push Toronto for the Atlantic Division and a coveted third or fourth seed in the playoffs.
They are currently three games behind the Raptors (33-26) and have a crucial game on Monday against Toronto at Barclays, where the Nets are handling their business having won six straight.
They have ground to make up but their chemistry is the best it’s been since this team was put together. And it should only improve once Garnett returns from injury, which could be as soon as Friday in Boston.
This wasn’t exactly how the Nets drew things up as far as their topsy-turvy path toward becoming a winning team. But the way it’s worked out, the Nets might actually be better for it since they’ve endured a boat load of drama, which has made them tougher.
“I think it’s the best it’s been all year,” said Deron Williams, whose confidence continued to rise with 16 points, seven assists and four steals against the Grizzlies. “You just see we are having a lot of fun playing with each other right now. The ball is moving, defensively we are helping each other.
“There’s a lot of trust,” Williams added. “That is what we have been talking about all year, is just trusting your teammates and we are really starting to do that.”