So, are the Brooklyn Nets championship contenders?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Dwane Casey said it early in the week, after the Nets beat his Raptors, their sixth win in seven games.

"This team here in Brooklyn is a championship-caliber team," said Casey, who has his own team playing at a high level.

Heady talk that, fair to say, few Nets fans subscribe to.  The Nets are 33-30 for the season, but they are 23-9 since January 1, best in the East fourth best in the league. Their defense is among the best over that stretch.. Since beginning of the calendar year, they're easily top five. During that span, Mike Mazzeo reports, 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). Even taking the Nets horrible start into account, they are a top 10 defensive team for the 2013-14 season, which was a team goal back in training camp.

Pundits and writers are slowly coming around to the possibility that a team that's played 563 post-season games --511 as starters-- could make some noise in the playoffs when there are no back-to-backs and, as Joe Johnson says, "the game slows way down, man." That's helpful for a roster with an average age of 29.5 years, second in the NBA to the Heat.

J.A. Adande of ESPN explains why the Nets aren't getting the respect they deserve: Too many NBA types wrote them off after they lost 21 of their first 31 games ... and lost their high scorer, Brook Lopez, for the season.

I've got to give some love to the Brooklyn Nets. It seems as if that first portion of their season defined them, and now no one is taking them seriously despite their Eastern Conference best 23-9 record since Jan. 1. Well, they just went to Miami and won, which has to do wonders for their confidence -- especially because it came without Kevin Garnett. The Nets are slow and methodical, in large part because two of their biggest weapons play a slow game (Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson). But that doesn't make them bad. In fact, it'll actually help the deeper into the playoffs they go.

And as Tim Bontemps writes, that confidence could grow. Bontemps notes that only six of their final 19 games are  against teams with records at .500 or better. "Chances are the Nets (33-30) will be able to make a run at something close to their 49-33 record from last season," Bontemps suggests.

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