Brooklyn Nets: Starting Five

Starting Five: Rating D-Will's season

May, 15, 2014
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Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams was supposed to be a darkhorse candidate to win the NBA’s MVP award in 2013-14.

It never happened.

Not even close.

The $98 million man’s season turned out to be a massive disappointment: from start to finish.

In Game 5, Williams failed to score in the fourth quarter, going 0-for-2 from the field and deferring to his teammates, as the Nets collapsed down the stretch and were eliminated from the playoffs by the Miami Heat on Wednesday night.

For the series, Williams went 1-for-11 from the field with four points and five assists in the final period. Overall against the Heat, he averaged 11.2 points and 6.2 assists on 36.7 percent shooting (22-for-60).

In his last two seasons with the Nets, Williams has been far from 100 percent healthy. Ankle injuries have persisted, robbing him of his ability to explode off the floor. In fact, he had to receive a cortisone shot and an inflammation injection in his left ankle prior to Game 7 of his team’s first-round series with the Toronto Raptors.

Williams did a pretty decent job of facilitating for his teammates and probing the paint, but he couldn’t finish at the basket. And his confidence clearly wasn’t there in crunch-time, because he never attempted any shots in the final minutes.

How close were the Nets to really making this a series?

Extremely close. Just look at this:

Game 2: Outscored 15-5 in the final 6:55; shot 1-for-7

Game 4: Outscored 13-6 in the final 4:28; shot 1-for-8

Game 5: Outscored 13-3 in the final 4:49; shot 1-for-10

Revisionist history now, but imagine if the Nets could’ve gotten one or two of those games? This series would still be going.

The organization now must figure out what the future holds for their franchise player. Williams has three years and $63.1 million remaining on his contract.

His trade value is probably pretty low, but both sides could possibly use a fresh start.

But if Williams does end up staying, the Nets need to make sure his ankles don’t flair up again. Having Williams healthy -- even if he’s no longer the player he was five years ago -- would do wonders.

But will he ever be as healthy and productive as he was in Utah? Hard to bet on that.

Question: How would you rate D-Will’s season? What would you do with him if you were GM Billy King? Let us know in the comments section below.

In case you missed it: Paul Pierce’s future with the Nets is uncertain, while Brooklyn’s $190 million roster could not get past the two-time defending champions, leading Ohm Youngmisuk to wonder: What’s next? Plus, Joe Johnson’s heroics were not enough.

You should also vote on our Take 'Em or Trash 'Em.

Stat to know: The Nets went into the fourth quarter of Wednesday night’s game with a 75-66 lead. They were 45-4 on the season when leading after three quarters. They finished 45-5 after being outscored 30-19.

Up next: Exit interviews and baggie day.

Starting Five: Livingston the key vs. Heat?

May, 6, 2014
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Brooklyn Nets guard Shaun Livingston had started 50 straight games since Jan. 1, and played a major role in the team’s turnaround in 2014.

But with the Nets down 3-2 to the Toronto Raptors in their first-round series, Brooklyn coach Jason Kidd decided to make a change, inserting Alan Anderson into the starting lineup in favor of Livingston, who came off the bench.

[+] EnlargeShaun Livingston
Claus Andersen/Getty ImagesShaun Livingston has been such a pleasant surprise for the Nets this season.
Many guys wouldn’t have been happy about being relegated to a reserve role. But Livingston has always been a team-first guy. There was no problem.

Livingston played only 28 minutes in the final two games against the Raptors, but his 4-for-4 performance from the field in the first half of Game 7 provided a huge boost.

Now, entering the Nets' second-round series against the two-time defending champion Miami Heat, indications are that Livingston will return to the starting lineup, barring a last-minute change of heart.

And he could prove to be the X factor in the series.

Livingston played really well against the Heat during the regular season, averaging 10.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 34.6 minutes per game. He shot 46.9 percent from the field and had five steals. In the teams' third meeting March 12, Livingston clinched a one-point Brooklyn victory when he deflected an inbounds pass in the final seconds. LeBron James scored just 19 points in that game.

ESPN analyst Hubie Brown said Livingston played some of the best one-on-one defense on James that Brown has ever seen.

“Oh man,” Livingston responded upon hearing the praise.

“Again, it’s team, it’s about the team defense, and playing smart and obviously taking the challenge one-on-one, but also knowing where the help is so you can send him the bodies, try to make him play in a crowd,” Livingston continued.

The 6-foot-7 Livingston, an adept post scorer, should be able to use his size advantage against smaller Miami guards Dwyane Wade (6-4) and Mario Chalmers (6-2).

Livingston’s versatility and unselfishness make him a player to keep an eye on in this series, which begins Tuesday at American Airlines Arena.

Question: What kind of impact do you think Livingston will have against the Heat? Let us know in the Comments section below.

In case you missed it: The Nets feel confident heading into their matchup with the Heat. Deron Williams had an injection before Game 6 against the Raptors, but feels better as a result. Plus, our position-by-position breakdown and a scout’s take on the series.

Stat to know: Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are 12-13 in 25 career playoff games against James.

Up next: Game 1 in Miami, tipoff at 7 p.m.

Starting Five: Keys to victory in Game 3

April, 25, 2014
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Let’s take a look at some of the biggest keys to a Brooklyn Nets’ win in Game 3 against the Toronto Raptors on Friday night at Barclays Center:

1. Rebounding: The Nets are getting outrebounded 97-67 in the series. In Game 2, the Raptors had 19 offensive rebounds. The Nets had 19 defensive rebounds. The 52-30 overall margin on the glass was simply unacceptable. Paul Pierce certainly thought so when he called out his team after the game and said they were “soft” inside.

“We’re definitely concerned,” Pierce said Thursday. “In the playoffs you got to be able to rebound, especially when the pace slows. You can understand when there are teams running, there’s transition,you get lost on your man, they throw quick shots, long rebounds -- but in the playoffs there’s a lot of halfcourt possessions so we have to do a better job of putting bodies on our man getting the rebound, guards coming into rebound, it has to be a group effort. We haven’t been a strong rebounding team all year long. We realize that but things can change in the playoffs but we have to do it as a team.”

2. Shooting: The Nets have had their looks. They just haven’t gone in. Brooklyn is shooting 43.3 percent in the series -- 11-for-48 from 3-point range (22.9 percent). The Nets love shooting at home -- as most teams do.

“Hopefully [we shoot better]. We had good looks. Personally, I felt like I had four or five that were in,” said Deron Williams, who is shooting just 37.1 percent. “We just have to stay confident, and shoot the shots that we have.”

3. Defense: The Nets can’t afford to allow the Raptors to shoot 75 percent from the field in the fourth quarter again -- like they did in Game 2, going 12-for-16.

“[Our defense] was pretty bad in Game 2,” Williams said. “I’m not gonna sugarcoat it. We can’t allow our fourth quarter to be our worst defensive quarter. It’s definitely something we want to address.”

4. Joe Johnson vs. DeMar DeRozan: Johnson got the best of DeRozan in Game 1, but the Raptors swingman went off in Game 2, scoring 17 of his 30 points in the fourth. Johnson had just two of his 18 in the final period. Johnson felt like he played good defense on DeRozan.

“I think it’s been pretty good from everybody, especially as a team, we’ve made him take a lot of tough shots,” Johnson said. “He’s made some tough shots and that’s how the game is going to go. We’ll live with him taking tough shots.”

The key for Johnson on offense? Making the Raptors pay for double-teaming him.

“They’ve done everything that you could do,” Johnson said. “So it’s not necessarily about me. I’m trying to make the right play if I do get double-teamed, just to help us win a game.”

Question: What do you think will be Brooklyn’s biggest key to winning Game 3? Let us know in the comments section below.

In case you missed it: Kevin Garnett’s minutes won’t be increasing as much as you want them too; Jason Collins was named one of Time’s 100 Most Influential People in the World”; and the Nets are looking forward to being back home.

Stat to know: The Raptors have lost 12 straight playoff road games. It’s just history. And none of the players that lost the last one will play in this one. Still, it’s something for the optimists.

Up next: Nets vs. Raptors in Game 3 on Friday night at Barclays Center.

Starting five: Pick your poison

April, 22, 2014
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TORONTO –- Kevin Garnett knows you can’t take everything away from a team in a playoff series.

You’ll have to give something up. In the Brooklyn Nets’ case in Game 1, they surrendered 17 points and 18 rebounds to Jonas Valanciunas inside.

The Nets want to slow down the Toronto Raptors’ backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. They don’t want to let the young Raptors get going, whether it be on the break or from behind the 3-point arc. DeRozan shot just 3-of-13. He and Lowry combined for only eight points in the fourth quarter of Game 1.

However, Jason Kidd also doesn’t want to see Toronto’s big man put up a monster line again either.

“Well, I think it’s a fine line,” Kidd said of having to give up something defensively. “We want to make it tough on everyone. Being able to take away the 3 and then also protect our paint is something that we’ve got to do a better job at.”

Valanciunas, 21, made 7 of 13 shots and had two blocks in his playoff debut. He also committed six turnovers.

While Valanciunas may be in his first playoff series, he didn’t look like somebody who was going to let a crafty veteran like Garnett get in his head.

Valanciunas was asked if Garnett talks a lot on the court.

“No,” the Lithuanian said. “I don't understand English, so I’m OK.”

Valanciunas seems to have a pretty dry sense of humor. When asked if Garnett was a player he idolized when he was young, Valanciunas responded, “His last name is really famous, so I heard about him when I was a kid.”

Valanciunas might end up making a name for himself in this series if the Nets don’t find a way to slow him down.

Up now: Let the chess match begin. Both teams must make their adjustments from Game 1. And the Nets should expect the Raptors to bring an attitude adjustment.

Call him Joe Mismatch.

Masai Ujiri won’t have to pay big bucks for dropping that “F” bomb on Saturday.

Kidd didn’t extend Pierce’s minutes during the regular season and it’s paying off now.

The odds of the Nets stealing Game 2 aren’t so good.

Net fact: Pierce has played in a ton of playoff games, but he still had a long way to go on the all-time list. He will tie Dale Davis for 50th in NBA history with his 138th career playoff game on Tuesday night.

What’s next: Game 2 in Toronto tips off at 7:30 p.m.

Question of the day: If you’re Kidd, can you live with another big game by Valanciunas? Which poison are you picking when trying to shut down Toronto’s young talent?
Paul Pierce has a chance to reach a major milestone against the Miami Heat and longtime rival LeBron James.

Pierce needs 19 more points to reach 25,000 career points. Whenever he reaches that milestone, he will become the 18th player in NBA history to score 25,000 points and just the fourth active player to do so, joining teammate Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and Dirk Nowitzki.

And Pierce has a chance to lead the Nets to a sweep over the Heat this season. No team has beaten the Heat four straight times in a regular season since the 2007-08 season.

It seems fitting that the Nets and Pierce can both have a big night together since Pierce has played such a large role in the Nets’ turnaround. Pierce’s move to power forward has coincided with the Nets posting the best record (32-13) in the East since Jan. 1.

Also, Pierce has been integral in the Nets’ success against Miami. Pierce is averaging 23.7 points and 53.8-percent shooting from the field against the Heat this season. He has shot 47.1 percent from behind the arc against Miami.

His aggressive play against the Heat has set the tone for the Nets. Pierce has made 21-of-24 free throws against Miami. No other Net has shot more than 11 free throws in the three wins over Miami.

So it could be a night to remember for Pierce for more reasons than one.

Up now: If you are into analytics and stats, check out ESPN’s new advanced metric and where the Nets players rank among the top players in the NBA.

Alonzo Mourning is going to the Hall of Fame. Seems fitting that two of his former teams go at it tonight in Miami.

Net fact: The Nets are the fourth team -– joining Chicago and Boston (twice) -- to beat the Heat three consecutive times since LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh joined forces in 2010, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Pierce has been a member of three of those teams (Nets and Celtics twice).

What’s next: Nets at Heat at 8 p.m.

Question of the day: Who do you think the Nets would rather face between Miami (given their own regular-season success against the Heat) and Indiana (given the Pacers’ recent struggles) in a potential playoff series?

Starting Five: Can the Nets win the Atlantic?

April, 3, 2014
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NEW YORK -- Is the Atlantic Division race over?

It was easy to think about that following the Brooklyn Nets’ loss and the Toronto Raptors’ win on Wednesday night.

The Nets (40-34) trail the Raptors (43-32) by 2 1/2 games in the standings with eight games left to make up what is starting to feel like an insurmountable deficit.

Brooklyn and Toronto both have just one game remaining against a sub-.500 opponent.

“You try to win as many as you can, but at the same time, we never controlled our destiny,” Paul Pierce said.

“It wasn’t like we were ahead of [Toronto] anyway. But the goal is finishing up this season winning as many games as we can, but we’ve also gotta get better. It’s all about the little things in the playoffs. I just tried to focus on telling the guys we’ve gotta come out better at the start of games -- especially on the road.”

The Nets also trail the Chicago Bulls (43-32) by 2 1/2 games for the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference and homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Brooklyn has won a franchise-record 14 games in a row at Barclays Center, but is just a 14-22 road team.

The Nets are expected to get back Kevin Garnett (back) and Andrei Kirilenko (ankle) over the weekend.

That certainly will help. But will it be too little too late?

Question: Do you think the Nets still have a chance to win the Atlantic? Let us know in the comments section below.

In case you missed it: Injury updates from GM Billy King, the Nets got beat badly by the Knicks and Jason Kidd and Joe Johnson talked about picking up technical fouls.

Stat right: The Nets are 10-11 at on the road since Jan. 1, though just 2-5 in their last seven.

Up next: The Nets are off Thursday.
The Nets can set a new franchise record for most consecutive home wins tonight against the Houston Rockets.

Considering that the Rockets will not have Dwight Howard and Patrick Beverley due to injuries, the Nets might just be able to set that record. They’ve won 20 of their last 22 at home and are rolling at Barclays.

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Will the Nets win the rest of their home games?

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Discuss (Total votes: 428)

Which leads to the question: If the Nets win tonight, can they win out at home for the remainder of the regular season? There’s a very good chance they could.

If they win on Tuesday against the Rockets -- which will still be difficult even with Howard and Beverley out -- the Nets could potentially win all their remaining home games. After Houston, the Nets play four more home games against the Pistons, Hawks, Magic and Knicks.

Even if they don’t do that, the Nets will go into the playoffs filled with confidence whenever they play at Barclays. But they have a chance to set a franchise record and create even more home magic with a win tonight over Houston.

Up now: Home-court advantage could be vital to the Nets’ chances of getting out of the first round.

The Knicks won in Utah last night, so the Nets’ magic number is still one -- any combination of a Nets win or Knicks loss.

Net stat:The Nets are currently in the midst of one the greatest turnarounds in NBA history, according to ESPN Stats and Info. The Nets were 11 games below .500 before Jan. 1. They have gone 29-12 since (.707 win percentage). No team in NBA history entered the month of January at 10 or more games below .500 and went on to register a post-December win percentage of at least .600.

What’s next: The Nets host the Rockets tonight at 8 p.m.

Nets question: Do you think the Nets will win all their remaining home games?

Starting Five: What to do with KG?

March, 28, 2014
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With 12 games remaining in the season, Jason Kidd will try to put the Nets in position to pass Toronto and potentially have home-court advantage in the first round.

But the Nets rookie coach will have to do so while juggling the health of his team and making sure that his key players stay healthy for the postseason.

Kevin Garnett has missed 14 straight games with a back injury and hasn’t played since the end of February. At some point, Garnett will need some action in a game to get back into shape for the playoffs.

Kidd said even before Garnett got hurt that he would keep KG on a minutes restriction in the playoffs. But at what point do Kidd and the Nets bring Garnett back and how much do you play him?

The Nets have four sets of back-to-back games in April which means if Garnett is healthy, he still will miss at least four more games next month since the Nets don’t plan on playing Garnett in complete back to backs.

At some point KG needs to regain his in-game conditioning. And the Nets need to win to keep up with Toronto and potentially gain home-court advantage for the first round. They’ll also have to incorporate Garnett back into the mix and get used to playing together again. However, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue since he is an important voice on defense, one of the team’s best rebounders and will only play limited minutes.

Still, Kidd will have to figure out how to juggle the team’s health while trying to win as many games as he can down the stretch.

Up now: A game-by-game look at the Nets’ remaining 12 games.

Life without KG inside has been a pain to the Nets.

Nets question: How much does KG have to play before the postseason begins?

Nets fact: Of the Nets’ remaining 12 games, only two of those games are against teams with a winning record (Houston and Miami). The Nets do play Minnesota, which is 35-35 entering Friday’s games.

What’s next: The Nets play the Cavaliers at home at 7:30.

Starting Five: Impressed with Nets defense?

March, 14, 2014
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The Miami Heat wanted to get to the ball into the best player on the planet.

The Brooklyn Nets wouldn’t let them.

With Miami down 96-95 and 3.5 seconds remaining on Wednesday night, Chris Bosh tried to inbound the ball to LeBron James.

But Shaun Livingston -- using the “active hands” mantra that Nets coach Jason Kidd continually preaches -- deflected the pass.

Joe Johnson, alert as ever, saved the ball from going out, enabling Brooklyn to hang on for a one-point victory -- arguably its best of the season.

The Nets ended up holding James to just 19 points -- 7.9 below his season average.

Livingston, Johnson and Mirza Teletovic combined to contain the four-time MVP. James went just 2-for-6 from the field in the first half, and scored only two points in the fourth quarter.

Teletovic, not known for his defense by any stretch, had a career-high three blocks in the game -- all in the second quarter.

Twice he swatted Michael Beasley, and once he swatted James, not falling for any of his fakes.

The Nets have held their last eight opponents under 100 points, and are 7-1 in that span.

Since Jan. 1, Brooklyn has the best record in the Eastern Conference (23-9), and its defense is the main reason why.

During that span, the Nets rank first in the NBA in steals (10.2) and opponents’ turnovers (18.0). They rank fifth in defensive rating (101. points allowed per 100 possessions) and ninth in opponents’ field goal percentage (45.0).

The turnovers they’ve caused have made up for their lack of rebounding (36.2 per game since Jan. 1, last).

Kidd’s players have bought in on that end of the floor -- and it’s showed.

Question: How impressed are you with Brooklyn’s defense? Let us know in the comments section.

In case you missed it: We broke down Deron Williamsjumper that gave the Nets a 96-92 lead.

Up next: The Nets are practicing in Miami prior to Saturday night’s game in D.C.

Starting Five: The emotional Truth

March, 7, 2014
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Paul PierceNathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesPaul Pierce can't help but feel sentimental toward Boston and the Celtics.
Paul Pierce has already experienced the emotional video presentation and the outpouring of love from Celtics fans.

And yet when Pierce makes his second trip back to Boston to play against the Celtics on Friday, the Nets' swingman will feel a tad sentimental again.

"I think as long as I'm in the NBA, it's still going to be a little emotional for me," Pierce said of playing in Boston. "I played so many regular-season games, so many big games on that floor. So many memories that are never going to go away on that floor."

The Nets beat the Celtics 85-79 on Jan. 26, but Pierce and Kevin Garnett had to do more than just hold off the Celtics in that one. They had to battle their emotions all night in what Garnett referred to as "by far, the hardest day that I had to focus."

This time, though, Pierce will not have Garnett with him. Garnett will miss his fourth straight game because of back spasms and did not make the trip, according to the Nets.

I think as long as I'm in the NBA, it's still going to be a little emotional for me. I played so many regular-season games, so many big games on that floor. So many memories that are never going to go away on that floor.

--Paul Pierce on returning to Boston
The former Celtics duo repeatedly received ovations from fans in the building in which they helped raise a championship banner in 2008.

While Garnett will not be there, another Nets big man will be making his return to Boston. Jason Collins will play his first game in Boston since joining the Nets and becoming the first openly gay player to play in one of North America's four major professional sports.

The 7-foot Collins played 32 games in Boston during part of the 2012-13 season and has fond memories of his short time in the city.

"I think it means a little bit more when KG and [Pierce] go back," Collins said with a chuckle. "I had a great time with the Celtics organization even though I was only with them for half a season last year. A great organization, great time, great fans, looking forward to going back."

This trip should be a bit more business-like for Pierce. But the veteran knows the feelings he'll have to battle whenever he is in that building.

"It's still going to be a little emotional, probably not as much [as last time]," Pierce said. "But when you have that many memories, it's tough to [forget]."

Up now: KG will miss his fourth straight game, but Billy King doesn't expect the big man to be out too long.

The Nets may have just learned what it feels like to be over .500. But they have been playing like a winning team for a bit, and Pierce says they can match up with anybody in the East.

The Nets signed point guard Jorge Gutierrez to a 10-day contract.

Call him “Magic” Blatche.

Net statistic: Mirza Teletovic is trying to shoot his way out of a bit of a slump. Since scoring 13 points against Charlotte on Feb. 12, Teletovic has failed to reach double figures in the nine games since. He is averaging 5.3 points and shooting just 18-of-54 (33 percent) overall and 12-of-40 (30 percent) from beyond the arc during that stretch.

What's next: The Nets are in Boston for a 7:30 tip.

Net question: Do you agree with Pierce that the Nets can match up with any team in the Eastern Conference in a playoff series?

Starting Five: Thanks be to guards

March, 4, 2014
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Deron Williams hit some circus shots Monday night -- including his reverse layup that gave the Nets an 11-point lead late in the first quarter of their 96-80 victory over the Bulls.

“I did, didn’t I?” Williams said with a smile. “It’s good. It’s good to get some of those back, and I’m feeling a lot better.”

His biggest bucket of the game turned out to be a 3-pointer that halted a Chicago rally and put Brooklyn up 83-71 with 5:58 remaining. Williams ended up with 20 points -- 14 in the second half -- along with six assists and no turnovers in 36 minutes.

The Nets are 6-2 this season when Williams scores 20 or more points.

Didn’t it seem like just yesterday -- well, Saturday night -- when Williams missed nine of his last 12 shots after hurting his right forearm in Milwaukee?

And on the same night Williams went off, so did Joe Johnson. A 32.1 percent shooter in his previous five games, Johnson erupted for 19 points on 7-for-11 from the field against the Bulls.

“I was just playing within the concepts of the offense,” said Johnson, who had been bothered by a jammed ring finger on his shooting hand. “I was able to get a few rhythm jumpers which kind of got me in a little groove and we just made some plays.”

The Nets sure are better when their $40 million duo plays well, huh?

Question: How nice was it to see Williams and Johnson get it going? Let us know in the Comments section below.

In case you missed it: Jason Collins made his home debut Monday, and the Nets beat the Bulls at their own game.

Stat of the day: The Nets have won 21 straight games in which they’ve held a lead at halftime.

Up next: Practice at Barclays Center on Tuesday.

Starting Five: Deadline dealing?

February, 20, 2014
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So here we are, mere hours from Thursday’s 3 p.m. ET trade deadline.

The Brooklyn Nets have already acquired Marcus Thornton, and were working to acquire Jordan Hill ... then again, so were other teams.

As anyone who has watched this team all season can see -- and Wednesday night’s game in Utah was just the latest example -- the Nets desperately need rebounding help.

They are second-to-last in the category.

This is why Hill would help. And if not him, someone like him.

Someone athletic, someone that can rebound, play post defense and score inside occasionally.

This is the type of player the Nets covet. And money doesn’t appear to matter.

The Nets, after all, are willing to pay around $17 million in additional luxury-tax penalties just to bring in Hill.

There’s no question Nets GM Billy King is going to be actively working the phones in an effort to improve his team and get the rebounding help it desires.

Of course, even if they don’t do anything Thursday, the Nets will still have until March 10 to use their $5.25 million Disabled Player Exception. And they also have two open roster spots.

Question: What would you like to see King do by Thursday’s deadline?

In case you missed it: We’ve got details on the Thornton trade and a recap of Wednesday night’s win over the Jazz.

Standings update: The Nets (25-27) are tied for fifth place in the Eastern Conference with the Washington Wizards (26-28). The two teams have identical .481 winning percentages.

Up next: The Nets don’t play again until Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors.

Starting Five: D-Will's second-half surge?

February, 18, 2014
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The Brooklyn Nets can only hope.

Hope that, for a second straight season, Deron Williams returns to play at an elite level following the All-Star break.

It happened in 2012-13. So why can’t it happen in 2013-14?

It pretty much has to, since, at the end of the day, the Nets are probably only going to go as far as Williams takes them.

In the four games prior to the break, the $98 million point guard struggled mightily, averaging 11.3 points, 4.5 assists, three rebounds and three turnovers on 36.6 percent shooting -- 26.7 percent from 3-point range.

He has already missed 16 games due to injury -- receiving yet another round of cortisone shots and PRP injections in both of his ankles in early January.

Recently, Williams has talked about lacking confidence, about how it bothers him that it’s news when he has a good game, about how he needs to get healthy.

Without much of his explosiveness, he still hasn’t dunked.

It didn’t used to be this way.

“That’s where it’s most needed,” Williams said of the All-Star break giving him some time off mentally to clear his head. “I know for me especially, just to get my confidence back, step away for a minute.”

Just look at some of his recent performances:
    • Two turnovers in the final minute against Toronto on Jan. 27

    • One assist and four turnovers against Oklahoma City on Jan. 31

    • 3-for-12 shooting in Indiana on Feb. 1

    • No assists for the first time since 2006 in Detroit on Feb. 7

    • Six turnovers, 4-for-14 shooting in Chicago on Feb. 13


The Nets lost all five of those games.

An Eastern Conference scout who watches Williams play on a regular basis wonders if, aside from being hurt, D-Will isn’t motivated to be at his best because the East is such a bad conference.

“I think he’s a little banged up and he feels like he doesn’t have to go all out [because of the standings],” the scout told ESPNNewYork.com. “I think it’s half him taking a mental break and half him trying to get healthy. ... He’s been awful.”

During the break, Williams went to Las Vegas with Andrei Kirilenko, according to Kirilenko’s wife Masha Patova’s Instagram account.



Perhaps it was just what he needed, a time to relax and get his mind off basketball.

The Nets certainly hope so.

Williams’ first game of the second half comes in Utah against his former team Wednesday night. He had 21 points and 11 assists the last time he faced the Jazz on March 30.

A similar performance Wednesday night could be just what Williams needs to get back on track and turn his season around after the All-Star break -- just like he did in 2012-13.

Question: Do you think Williams will turn it around for a second straight season after the All-Star break? Let us know in the comments section.

In case you missed it: The Nets are interested in Jarrett Jack and Jordan Hill as the Feb. 20 trade deadline fast approaches.

Up next: The Nets practice Tuesday in Utah.

Starting Five: Nets not thinking division yet

February, 12, 2014
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Before the Nets start thinking about challenging Toronto for the Atlantic Division title, they first want to focus on reaching .500.

At 23-26, the Nets want to establish more consistency before setting their sights on the division.

[+] EnlargeBrooklyn Nets
Maddie Meyer/Getty ImagesPaul Pierce & Co. know now isn't the time to take their foot off the gas with Brooklyn nearing .500.
“Truthfully, winning the division hasn’t even come up,” Paul Pierce said. “So it’s all about growing, playing better basketball right now. I think first you’ve got to get over .500 before we start talking about winning the division. Then you can talk about raising your goals up.”

The Nets can inch closer to that first goal of pulling even by taking care of business before All-Star Weekend. The Nets host Charlotte on Wednesday before going to Chicago on Thursday.

It won’t be easy beating two Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls back to back, but going into the break on a winning streak would have the Nets feeling really good, considering their tough schedule ahead.

When the Nets return from the All-Star break, they embark on a six-game West Coast road swing against the Jazz, Warriors, Lakers, Blazers, Nuggets and Bucks.

After Wednesday's game, the Nets won’t play at Barclays until Mar. 3.

“That’d be huge,” Deron Williams said of winning these next two games. “And then we’ve got that long road trip when we get back, so essentially most guys are going to be gone for 2 1/2, three weeks straight. So you know it’s important for us to finish strong [before the break].”

Pierce knows how teams can easily lose focus before the All-Star break.

“This is the time of the year, you see the break coming where teams tend to get relaxed,” Pierce said. “So we are going to continue to try to grow, gain some momentum and try to finish out the first part of this season on a good note.”

Up now: Deron Williams just wants to get healthy again.

Joe Johnson is practicing for the All-Star 3-point contest. Watch him practice, and watch Jason Kidd show he can still hit the 3.

What’s next: The Nets host the Bobcats Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

Net fact: How important is it for the Nets to be in the lead after three quarters? They are 21-1 when taking a lead into the fourth quarter.

Net question: What’s your prediction for the Nets in their next two games before the All-Star break?

Starting Five: D-ing up on KD

January, 31, 2014
Jan 31
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Kevin Durant, Shaun LivingstonMark D. Smith/USA TODAY SportsShaun Livingston on guarding Kevin Durant: "We gotta be ready to step up and take the challenge."
Using NBA.com’s stats tool, I looked at each of Kevin Durant's 13 field goal attempts Jan. 2 and compiled his (unofficial) shooting splits based on which Brooklyn Net was guarding him each time:

Shaun Livingston: 4-for-9
Andrei Kirilenko: 3-for-3
Wide open: 1-for-1

Durant, who was in foul trouble, finished with just 24 points in 34 minutes that night, and the Nets were able to turn their season around in Oklahoma City with a 95-93 win over the Thunder on Joe Johnson's buzzer-beater.

Livingston also caused or helped force three turnovers by Durant.

“Honestly, it was a team effort. I just tried to get up and make him feel uncomfortable,” Livingston said. “Russell [Westbrook] had just went down, so they were trying to figure it out. It was kind of circumstances, but they’re a totally different team and he’s a totally different player right now.”

Durant, of course, is playing out of his mind right now, averaging 38 points on 54.4 percent shooting in his past 12 games.

“Anything over half court, it’s like, an option [for him to score]. It’s like a video game right now,” said Livingston, who feels Durant is the best offensive player in the NBA. “But, again, it’s a team effort, whether it’s me, Alan [Anderson] or Kirilenko. We gotta be ready to step up and take the challenge.”

The Nets are 10-2 in January, and their improved defense is one of the main reasons; they are giving up 5.8 fewer points per 100 possessions than they did in their first 31 games.

Brooklyn has gone to a smaller, longer starting lineup featuring Livingston (6-7), Anderson (6-6), Johnson (6-7), Paul Pierce (6-7) and Kevin Garnett (6-11).

“You just wanna always keep a body on a guy like that at all times, so like when we do switch, it’s not that easy -- like coming off a screen wide-open because of our type of pick-and-roll coverages,” Livingston said. “We’re switching and we’re up. And so now if it’s not me, he has to go around, it’s KG, Paul or somebody.”

You really can’t give Durant any room to operate.

“Showing [on pick and rolls], getting the ball out of his hands, putting pressure on him and, late game, making him find his teammates,” Livingston said. “Because we know he can beat us, but trying to make his teammates -- not to say that they’re not capable, but if you gotta pick, I’m gonna roll my dice on them.”

In case you missed it: Deron Williams probably won't start Friday, AK-47 underwent an MRI and Andray Blatche is eyeing a spot on the Filipino national team.

Visiting a friend: Mason Plumlee, Marquis Teague and Matt Riccardi went to visit Brook Lopez. Looks like Lopez (season-ending foot injury) is in good spirits.

Stat of the day: This season, the Nets have outscored their opponents by 47 points with D-Will on the court. Without him, Brooklyn has been outscored by seven points. Their offense rating is 108.8 (points per 100 possessions) with Williams, 83.7 without him. Field goal percentage splits: 49.2 with/43.2 without. Credit to ESPN Stats & Information for these.

Up next: Nets versus Thunder.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Brook Lopez
PTS AST STL MIN
20.7 0.9 0.5 31.4
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsK. Garnett 6.6
AssistsD. Williams 6.1
StealsD. Williams 1.5
BlocksB. Lopez 1.8