- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Nets (40-28) are guaranteed to own the tiebreaker with the Sixers (26-42) by virtue of their division record (9-4 to 7-8). Even if both teams finished with identical 40-42 records and split the season series at 2-2 -- the Nets lead it 2-1; the two teams play in Brooklyn on April 9 -- Brooklyn would get into the postseason because its 9-7 record in the Atlantic would be better than Philadelphia’s 8-8 mark.
While the Nets were expected to qualify for the postseason following their offseason spending spree, this is a significant accomplishment for the previously woebegone franchise.
Consider: in their previous five seasons, the Nets never won more than 34 games and went a combined 126-268 (.320). Record by season:
But things changed when Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov came in and acquired majority ownership of the team in May 2010. After back-to-back lame-duck years in Newark, Prokhorov moved the Nets to Brooklyn and the $1 billion Barclays Center.
He also allowed GM Billy King and assistant GM Bobby Marks to invest $330 million in order to retain Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries and bring in Joe Johnson via trade, along with other surrounding pieces. Prokhorov said a successful first season in Brooklyn would be defined by “maybe a trip to the conference finals.”
The Nets aren’t there yet, but this is certainly a positive first step. After getting off to a brilliant 11-4 start under Avery Johnson in November, the team fizzled in December (3-10), prompting the firing of Johnson. Assistant P.J. Carlesimo took over the head-coaching reins on an interim basis. The Nets won 12 of their first 14 games under Carlesimo and have gone 14-12 since. They’ve been at their best against inferior opponents, compiling a 24-4 mark against sub-.500 teams (at time of game played).
Williams is finally starting to look like an elite point guard after struggling through injuries, fatigue, shooting confidence issues, and adjustments to a new offensive system. Since taking a week off to rest his inflamed ankles during the All-Star break -- which included a third set of cortisone shots in both ankles, platelet-rich plasma therapy treatment and a three-day juice cleanse -- Williams is averaging 23.9 points on 48 percent shooting.
Lopez has been the team’s most consistent player and was named an All-Star for the first time in his career. Johnson has been the team’s go-to guy down the stretch, going 9-for-10 from the field in the final minute of games in which the Nets are tied or trailing by three points or fewer. Wallace is having the worst year of his career, while Humphries is currently out of the rotation, but Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans and C.J. Watson have proved to be solid low-cost additions.
All in all, the Nets are very much relevant and are filling their arena to capacity on most nights. They may always play second fiddle in the city to the New York Knicks, but at least they’re in the conversation. And, now, the playoffs too. So that has to be considered a victory.
What do you think of the Nets making the playoffs for the first time since 2007? Let us know in the comments section below.