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Thursday, December 22, 2011
Christmas Countdown: Prediction

By Mike Mazzeo


Continuing through Dec. 23, ESPNNewYork.com is running a series called "Christmas Countdown" examining a hot topic each day that involves the New Jersey Nets.

Today's Hot Topic: Prediction

Somewhere between 25-30 wins. A borderline playoff team at best.

That’s my prediction for the Nets this season.

Now, that prediction comes with a massive disclaimer. If the Nets are somehow able to land Orlando center Dwight Howard, I reserve the right to change my prediction.

Eight teams are going to make the playoffs in the Eastern Conference. Baring any injuries of seismic proportions, I expect the Heat, Bulls, Knicks and Celtics to get in. The Magic join that list as long as they keep D-12. The Hawks have qualified for the postseason four straight times, while the Pacers have a young and emerging roster only made better by the addition of David West. And the Sixers are probably going to hover around the .500 mark like they always do.

All that being said, it’s going to be tough for the Nets to make the playoffs this season. Deron Williams is an absolutely phenomenal point guard, and Brook Lopez looks like he could be a legitimate 20-and-8 center this season. But that duo alone isn’t going to be enough to get the Nets over the “Hump.” Pun intended.

Damion James and MarShon Brooks look like they’re going to have a big impact this season, but they’re young and inexperienced. Kris Humphries is back, but he looks like he’s a ways away from being the double-double machine he was last year. Anthony Morrow and Shawne Williams are lethal 3-point weapons, but can they create their own shots?

Remember, this is a Nets team that has gone 36-128 over the past two seasons. A Nets team that went just 5-36 on the road last season and 13-39 in the conference. A Nets team that ranked 28th out of the 30 NBA teams in scoring.

Coach Avery Johnson isn’t trying to pull anyone’s chain when he says this team now is better than the one he had at the beginning of the 2010-11 campaign. The problem is -- as a result of the NBA lockout -- the Nets haven’t had the practice time to develop the type of cohesiveness that a team with seven newcomers (counting DeShawn Stevenson) needs to develop. And playing 10 of their first 14 games away from the Prudential Center isn’t going to help in that respect.

As Johnson said after a two-game preseason in which his team had 46 turnovers, the Nets are “far from a finished product.”

Unlikely most seasons, there is no margin for error. No time for tinkering. Johnson is going to have to find a rotation quickly.

The Nets are very well-positioned for the future. They’ll have a ton of cap space into the summer of 2012 and have assets like Lopez and several first-round draft picks that they can package together in a trade.

But their roster right now -- as currently constituted -- still leaves much to be desired.

That’s why I’m picking them to win 25-30 games. The playoffs appear to be slightly out of reach at this point, but as the New York Lottery Jackpot slogan goes, “Hey, You Never Know.”