Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Nets' Midseason Report
By Mike Mazzeo
Move to a new city and a $1 billion arena: check.
Spend $330 million in the offseason: check.
Brook Lopez and the Nets arrived at the midpoint to the season with an 88-85 win over the Knicks.
Get off to a great start: check.
Tailspin in December and fire your coach: check.
Rebound in 2013 under your interim coach: check.
Yes, the Brooklyn Nets have done all of that -- and we're only halfway through the 2012-13 season.
The Nets (25-16) are currently on pace for 50 wins and their first playoff appearance since 2006-07. Here is the midseason report:
REALISTIC GOAL: Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov said in early November that a successful first season in Brooklyn would be defined by "maybe the conference finals."
Ever since P.J. Carlesimo took over for Avery Johnson, the Nets have looked like a team that could meet Prokhorov's lofty expectations.
Brooklyn is 11-2 under Carlesimo, with wins over the Thunder, Pacers, Hawks and Knicks during that stretch. Since Dec. 28, the day Carlesimo replaced Johnson, the Nets are averaging 100.5 points per game while giving up 94.5. Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez are all playing with confidence -- as is the rest of the team. On any given night, it seems, the Nets are capable of beating any team in the NBA.
So the conference finals is a realistic goal in the wide-open East, as long as the Nets stay healthy and their top players perform the way they're supposed to -- and they avoid Miami.
The defending champion Heat have throttled the Nets in both of their meetings this season, by 30 points on Nov. 7 and 13 on Dec. 1. It's unlikely that the Nets -- barring a trade to massively upgrade their roster -- could beat the Heat four times in a best-of-seven series.
FIVE DATES THAT WILL SHAPE THE SECOND HALF
Jan. 30 vs. Miami: The Heat make their first trip to Brooklyn as the Nets face Miami for a third and final time this season. The Nets would make a big statement against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade & Co. if they pulled out a victory here.
Feb. 5 vs. Lakers:Dwight Howard comes to Brooklyn -- the place he has wanted to call home. The D12 rumors have already begun. After all, the Lakers are floundering, and the Nets were enamored with adding Howard for quite some time. You can't have enough Dwightmare, can you?
Feb. 21, NBA trade deadline: Nets GM Billy King is known for his wheeling and dealing. Don't be surprised if King makes yet another trade to upgrade this roster -- likely at power forward or small forward. Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks and multiple future first-round picks appear to be Brooklyn's best assets.
March 18-April 3: The Nets hit the road for eight consecutive games: at Detroit, Dallas, Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix, Portland, Denver, Utah and Cleveland. While on paper some of the games appear winnable, taking care of business away from home is never easy.
April 10 at Boston: The last time the Nets and Celtics played in Boston, a minor scuffle broke out between Humphries, Rajon Rondo, Gerald Wallace and Kevin Garnett. This could be a crucial game in terms of playoff positioning.
THREE DEVELOPMENTS THAT SHAPED THE FIRST HALF
The 11-4 November: The Nets came out of the gate on fire, soaring under Avery Johnson. During the month, they were one of the league's top defensive teams and came away with victories over the Celtics (twice), Clippers and Knicks. Johnson earned Coach of the Month honors after the Nets got off to their best start in franchise history. Expectations increase for a breakthrough season.
Lopez gets hurt, Johnson loses his job: Lopez missed seven games with a sprained foot and the Nets went 2-5, including 1-5 in December. They ended up going 5-11 for the month, and Johnson was fired with the team sitting at .500 (14-14). Williams went public about being uncomfortable running Johnson's isolation-heavy offense, and blowout losses to the Knicks, Celtics and Bucks sealed the coach's fate.
P.J. saves the day: The Nets won a season-high seven straight games on Carlesimo's watch from Jan. 2-15. They are playing much more confidently and clearly enjoy playing for their new coach. While names like Phil Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy have been mentioned as possible long-term replacements, the Nets would have to have some sort of epic collapse for Carlesimo not to keep the job for the rest of the season.