Sunday, March 30, 2014
Resolution rings true for new-look Nets
By Mike Mazzeo
NEW YORK -- The Brooklyn Nets have been through a lot this season: from Jason Kidd’s involvement in sodagate to Lawrence Frank’s demotion to Brook Lopez’s season-ending injury to their 10-21 start.
But for all the trials and tribulations that they had to endure early on, their resolve never wavered.
And on Jan. 1, 2014, following a blowout defeat in San Antonio, the Nets decided they were going to turn their season around.
And that’s exactly what they did.
“It just shows you the character of this group,” Paul Pierce said.
The top and bottom of Brooklyn's roster has contributed to this year's turnaround.
Brooklyn’s magic number is one, meaning any combination of a Nets win or Knicks loss will put the team in the postseason.
“I think a lot of teams with bad character, bad leadership in the locker room would’ve laid down a long time ago. Probably by Christmas [they] would’ve been making summer plans, but not this group. You’ve got a mentally strong group in this locker room full of veterans who just were always staying positive and being patient with one another.
“We never had a locker room rift. There was never any whispering going on or one guy blaming another guy. And that’s the things that you see in losing locker rooms on young teams when things go wrong, and you never saw that here.
“We stayed positive. We believed in Jason Kidd. And we made a resolution on Jan. 1 that we were somehow going to find a way to turn it around, and since then we’ve been a growing ballclub and we’re continuing to grow.”
After winning their franchise-record tying 13th straight game at home on Sunday night at Barclays Center, the Nets improved to an Eastern Conference-best 29-12 in the New Year.
During that stretch, they have forged an identity under Kidd, exploiting opponents with a smaller, longer lineup that both forces turnovers and drains 3-pointers at a high rate.
Deron Williams, hampered by ankle injuries, has rediscovered his high caliber level of play after the All-Star break.
Kevin Garnett and Pierce, who had trouble adjusting to their new roles, have each carried the team for stretches, providing both leadership and on-court productivity at center and power forward, respectively.
Mason Plumlee has flourished in KG's 16-game absence.
Shaun Livingston has moved seamlessly into the starting lineup, making his impact felt on many nights despite not having the ball in his hands.
Johnson has provided consistency and made a couple more big shots along the way.
Trade deadline acquisition Marcus Thornton has provided spark plug scoring, while free-agent signee Jason Collins has given the team post defense and yet another veteran presence in the locker room.
Garnett’s recent back injury that has caused him to miss the last 16 games? That’s just given an opportunity to Mason Plumlee -- and the rookie big man made the most of it.
Having Andrei Kirilenko for just 37 games so far due to various injuries? No problem.
“The first part of the season was rough on us, the injuries and everything we went through,” Williams said. “It feels good. It feels good to be able to turn it around. I think we never really gave up hope when everything was really going wrong. We were getting a lot of flack from [the media]. We just stuck together and knew we had a chance to turn it around and it was only a matter of time.”
The postseason can’t get here fast enough. The Nets don’t know who they’re going to face -- they could fall anywhere from No. 3-6 in the Eastern Conference playoff seeding -- but quite frankly, they don’t care.
“We feel like we can compete with a lot of these teams,” Williams said. “In a seven-game series, we like our chances.”
Toronto? Chicago? Washington?
Pierce put it best.
“We’re trying to win all of the rest of our games on the schedule,” he said. “That’s our goal. That’s our mentality. Like I said before, wherever we end up in the seeding: Bring Em’ On.”