Crunchtime coming for Brooklyn Nets as injured players return, schedule lightens

Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

As Kevin Garnett said of November, it was "sh_tty."  He might have called it a perfect storm (of bad news, among other things.)  From a wave of injuries to a spilled drink to a series of confrontations between two old friends on the bench. The schedule didn't help either. The Nets were on the road most of the month, playing 11 of 17 games away from Barclays Center and without a home back-to-back until December 3 - 5.

Things are getting better. Deron Williams is back, having rested both his balky ankles; Paul Pierce returned early from a broken hand; Brook Lopez's ankle injury appears minor and for the first time in a long time, Andrei Kirilenko was back on the court this weekend.  Jason Kidd appears more confident if not serene, and of the team's next six games, five are at home, all against sub-.500 teams. Only a rematch with the Pacers looks as a major test.

In fact, the Nets don't board a plane again until December 27. There's one away game in that stretch, on Friday, and that's a bus ride to Philadelphia.

D-Will's return is, of course, the biggest change. In the three games he's played since returning, he's averaging 20.7 points, 6.7 assists, only 2.7 turnovers and has shot 55.3 percent overall and 41.6 percent from deep. That's what he did after the All-Star game last season. More importantly, the Nets have scored 114.5 points per 100 possessions with him on the floor.

A healthy Lopez has also proven to be difficult to guard with D-Will on the ball. In the two games where they've played together, he's shooting 61.5 percent and averaging an even 20 per game.

There's other encouraging signs as well. After the Clippers fast start on Thursday, Kidd adjusted and as the Times reported, the Nets forced Chris Paul into the role of a scorer rather than a distributor. Paul scored 20 points, but he had only two assists, by far his lowest single-game total of the season.

And Kidd started Mirza Teletovic in the second half, leaving Reggie Evans on the bench. Teletovic hit five straight three's to lead the Nets comeback. He's now averaging 6.0 points and 3.7 rebounds in 15 minutes per game. That's 14.4 and 8.9 per 36 minutes. He shooting 41.2 percent now from three as well. Compare that to another stretch four, Steve Novak. He's shooting 34.7 percent for Toronto, averaging 4.2 and 1.4. Moreover, the Raptors owe Novak twice as much money as the Nets owe Teletovic.

There's a long way to go and none of the three players who were traded for first round picks last June have contributed at the level expected ... although all three do have a recent history of contributing more as the season wears on.  Can the Nets rescue their season?  We'll know a lot by the turn of the year.

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