What a difference a few months make. In October, the Brooklyn Nets were being written as a lock to contend for the NBA Championship this year. Then, November and December happened, where they went 10-21 and were looked at as team with a $100-million payroll and were arguably the "laughing stock" of the NBA. Now, after having gone 25-10 since the turn of the New Year, the Nets are once again being looked at as possible title contenders, and as USA Today's Sam Amick notes, they are a "scary underdog" to compete in the playoffs.
Brooklyn dealt with an identity crisis early on -- from both the players and coaching staff -- while some serious injuries took Andrei Kirilenko out for over a month, saw Deron Williams struggle with ankle issues (again!) and took their All-Star center Brook Lopez from them for the remainder of the season. And before we knew it, 10-21 happened.
Now, as Amick notes, the Nets are no joke, playing so well right now that they've made it so the East no longer seems like a "two-team race."
While a sizable gap still exists between the Heat and Pacers and everyone else, it's nothing like it was just a few months ago. The Nets, who were on pace to become the priciest punchline in NBA history early on, have the fifth best record since Jan. 1 (25-11) and could still earn homecourt advantage in the playoffs (they entered Thursday two games behind the Bulls).
Amick mentions three key points as to why the Nets are where they are right now. First, credit goes to Jason Kidd for his personal development. Second, related to the first point, is Kidd's "small" lineup with Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston starting at the two guard positions and Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce playing the two wing positions.
Finally, he mentions the team's defense, which has been the 5th best in defensive efficiency, allowing just 101.3 points per 100 possessions since January 1, and they also lead the league in forced turnovers in that span.
So, here we are. Months after being title contenders, more recently being the biggest busts in the NBA, we're about back where we started. The Nets are once again being looked at as contenders, or at the very least "scary underdogs."
It's been quite the ride, but order seems to be restored in Brooklyn.
- Grizzlies, Nets lead scary underdogs in NBA playoffs - Sam Amick - USA Today