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The Month in Review - December 2014

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Brian Fleurantin, who does our game previews, also does our months in review. For the last month of 2014, he asks, "Did things get better in December? Well..." Now, if Brian could only predict the future! no.

I wonder what Dikembe's staring at
I wonder what Dikembe's staring at
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing beginning of the season, the Brooklyn Nets entered December down, but not out.

The numbers

What happened this month in comparison to October and November? Let's check it out:

2014-2015 Season

October/November 2014 December 2014

Record

6-9 9-7

Pace

95.15 93.95

Offensive Efficiency

102.4 99.9

Defensive Efficiency

102.2 102.8

Turnover Rate

15.2 14.5

Assist Rate

15.8 17

Offensive Rebounding Rate

24.1 23.6

Rebounding Rate

49 48.2

Free Throw Rate

27.2 27.6

Effective Field Goal Percentage

49.3 48.4

Opponent's Effective Field Goal Percentage

49 49.7

Interesting. Their differential suggests that they should have a worse record, but that is skewed a bit because they were on the receiving end of five blowouts. One of the consistent critiques of the Nets this season is their lack of wins against teams above .500. They lost all of those games in November, but that changed this month. More on one of those games in a bit.

The team was surrounded by trade rumors throughout the month. The big one was the rumor that had Deron Williams and Mason Plumlee going to Sacramento in exchange for Darren Collison, Derrick Williams, Jason Thompson, and Nik Stauksas. At the time, I said of the rumored trade and why it would make sense for Brooklyn:

For the Nets, if they were to move Williams, they would save millions of dollars in the next couple of seasons. The Nets reportedly lost $144 million last year, and even though Mikhail Prokhorov is Scrooge McDuck taking a swim in the money bin, that's still a heavy hit. The move would fall in line with the Nets' goal of maintaining their 2016 cap space.

It didn't happen, but the team is still reportedly interesting in moving one of their Big Three.

One of the big changes from November to December was the team's performance in the third quarter. For years, the team has been one of the league's worst coming out of the break and November was no exception. The team was outscored by 11 points per 100 possessions in November, but played teams to a virtual standstill. That may not mean much

Injuries came back to hurt the Nets in December. Deron Williams missed time with a calf injury and Brook Lopez was out with a back injury. Jarrett Jack and Mason Plumlee took their places in the starting five and did well filling in. In fact, they remained in the starting five once the duo returned and figure to stay there for the foreseeable future.

Best performance: December 30 at Chicago

This was an easy selection. To really appreciate this win for the Nets, you have to go back to the first two meetings. The first game was on November 30 in Brooklyn and the Bulls won by 18 points. It was the team's worst loss of November. They met about a week later on December 10 and Chicago won again, this time by 25 points. What stood out in both of those losses was the Nets inability to keep the game close in the third quarter.

That didn't happen here. The Nets shocked practically everybody by beating the Central Division leading Bulls by 14 in Chicago. Deron Williams hounded Derrick Rose into his worst game since returning from injury, Joe Johnson outplayed sleeper MVP candidate Jimmy Butler, and Brook Lopez was the best big man on the court. The win represented everything that would carry the Nets back to the playoffs. Great defense, timely scoring and an all around effort from everyone on the roster.

Worst performance: December 5 vs. Atlanta

They've lost by larger margins, but this loss to the Hawks particularly stands out. The Nets had come off a great win against the San Antonio Spurs and were at 100 percent. The win against the Spurs was their first against a team that was above .500 this season. They also had an opportunity to reach the .500 mark themselves if they picked up the victory.

What did happen here was a 23 point beatdown in front of the home audience at Barclays Center. At various points throughout the month, the Nets weren't at full strength. They were here and this game was over by halftime. It wasn't clear at the time, but at this point, I think it's safe to declare the Hawks the best team in the Eastern Conference. They've built on their good showing in the first round against Indiana last season and are healthy with the return of Al Horford. Despite that, the Nets (at the time I should note) should have been able to give a better game, especially at home.

Best player: Mason Plumlee

This is a well deserved honor for the second year player from Duke. After struggling throughout November and temporarily losing his spot in the rotation, Plumlee entered the starting lineup in place of the injured Brook Lopez. Since that day (December 10), Plumlee went on to average 15.5 points and 9.5 rebounds while collecting five double doubles along the way. His play made him an untouchable player for Nets management and is the reason Deron Williams isn't in Sacramento right now. There was even discussion as to whether Lopez should permanently come off of the bench. Having a player like Plumlee is essential for a team that is trying to get younger and gain some salary flexibility. He plays his role well, is a fan favorite and doesn't cost that much money. Easy to see why management wants to keep him around.

Worst player: Bojan Bogdanovic

When he came over in the summer, he was expected to replace Paul Pierce's production. Unfortunately for him and the Nets, that wasn't the case. He lost his spot in the starting lineup to Sergey Karasev and ultimately his minutes in the rotation. Orlando Magic big man Nikola Vucevic told Bojan not to panic and his advice has paid off. Bojan returned to the starting five in mid January.

Highlight of the month

On December 14, Nets superfan Jeffrey Gamblero passed away due to injuries he sustained in a fall. The team paid tribute to him before their December 16 game against the Miami Heat. Here's video of the tribute the Nets showed:

Key games

  • January 12 vs. Houston

This is where the inability to take advantage of the weak schedule comes back to bite the Nets in the butt. They couldn't beat any of the poor teams in the league, and now the schedule becomes incredibly difficult. Brooklyn is on a five game losing streak and the Rockets are on a four game winning streak. Led by the dynamic duo of Dwight Howard and James Harden, they haven't missed a beat after losing Chandler Parsons. Harden in particular has improved from last season and is actually been defending reasonably well. If the Nets are going to shake the malaise that has captured the fanbase and franchise, it's gonna have to start here. Good luck.

  • January 14 vs. Memphis

This game stands out for two reasons. The first is that it's another incredibly difficult game against a team that has a good chance of making it to the NBA Finals. Led by Marc Gasol, the Grizzlies are in great position to win their first division title. The Grizz have been linked to Boston's Jeff Green, but nothing has been officially announced as of yet. It's unlikely he's on the court for this contest. The other reason this game stands out is that this is the first time Lionel Hollins will see his former team since he was unceremoniously fired back in 2013. Hollins was not happy with how his time in Memphis ended, so his press conferences before and after the game should be interesting.

  • January 17 vs. Washington

This is night two of a home and home between the Nets and Wizards. With Miami's decline following LeBron's exit, the Wiz have stepped up and are the favorites to win the Southeast Division. John Wall and Bradley Beal are the best backcourt in the East and they will put a lot of pressure on Jack and Bogdanovic.

  • January 30 vs. Toronto

If there's any consolation for the Nets, it's that Demar DeRozan might miss this game. DeRozan sat out the first meeting with a groin injury and has not returned yet. One problem? The Nets played the Raptors without DeRozan in December and still lost by 16. Yikes.

Player to watch: Brook Lopez

Well, watch has two meanings here. The first is for what he does on the court. Lopez has been coming off of the bench since he came back from the back injury. For the most part, he's been playing well since returning. With Williams out and the offense sputtering, Brook is going to have to play well every night if the Nets want to win. The other reason to watch is that it's possible Lopez is traded before the deadline on February 19. If Brook is playing well, it increases the likelihood of Brooklyn getting a good package back in exchange for the former All Star. He's been linked to Cleveland and Oklahoma City so far, and as we get closer to the deadline, more teams will start to emerge.