Did it ever.
Since interim coach P.J. Carlesimo took over for Johnson, the Nets are 7-1. They got annihilated in San Antonio on New Year’s Eve, but haven’t lost since the ball dropped in Times Square.
On Friday night, they won their third straight game by 20 points -- 99-79 over the Phoenix Suns at Barclays Center -- the first time they’ve done so in the franchise’s NBA history. Overall, the Nets (21-15, 14-0 against sub-.500 teams when played) have won a season-high tying five in a row -- the third time they’ve done so this season.
And Carlesimo deserves as much credit as anyone for their recent surge, which has them just two games behind the New York Knicks in the Atlantic Division standings.
“We’ve just kind of bought into what P.J. wants us to do on both ends of the floor,” said Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson, who battled through illness to notch a game-high 19 points. “We’re trying to get back to being defensive-minded, being that team we were when the season first started, and guys have been playing well.”
“He’s just done a great job,” said Williams, who had his fifth consecutive All-Star caliber performance, finishing with 15 points, six assists and three rebounds on 3-for-5 shooting. “He gets on everybody from top to bottom, when they’re not playing well, when they’re not doing what they’re supposed to do. He’s not shy about that.
“At the same time, he’ll talk to you, tell you what you’re doing wrong nicely. And after the game and before practice he’ll talk to you. He’s done a great job of defining roles and letting people know what they need to do out there on the court.”
“P.J. is a great coach, a great motivator. He’s sort of like a player’s coach,” said reserve guard MarShon Brooks, who scored a season-high 17 points and appears to have regained his confidence after being constantly chided by Johnson for not playing enough defense. “He encourages everybody. the main guys have been playing well all season, but a lot of guys have been playing better because of him.”
On Friday night, the Nets trailed by as many as 11 in the first half, but turned it on in the second half, outscoring the Suns 53-26. Phoenix shot just 23.7 percent in the final 24 minutes. Its 26-point second-half output was the fewest allowed by the Nets in any half this season. The Suns led 63-62 late in the third, but the Nets ripped off a 22-3 run to turn a close one into another blowout.
Five different Nets notched double figures, with reserve center Andray Blatche (15 points, eight rebounds) picking up the slack for starter Brook Lopez (13 points, eight rebounds on 5-for-16 shooting).
The Nets were without reserves Kris Humphries (sore left ankle), Mirza Teletovic (illness) and Jerry Stackhouse (sore hamstring) coming in. They had small forward Gerald Wallace for just six minutes before he bruised his ribs and had to leave the game, and D-Will playing on one leg after he suffered a right thigh contusion early in the third.
Still, they were able to find a way.
D-Will said the team is gelling and feeling more comfortable on the floor. The Nets have shown continuity on offense, while playing tenacious defense when they have to.
Sure their schedule has been favorable, but they’ve been taking care of business.
“They’re playing together,” Carlesimo said. “I thought our guys did a helluva job tonight, I really did. Given the circumstances, I thought that was a very good win.”