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At break, Nets in very good shape, despite everything

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Brooklyn Nets v Houston Rockets Photo by Maria Lysaker/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s been a wild first half of the season, with the roster makeover driven by the James Harden trade, Kyrie Irving’s still a bit mysterious “personal leave” and the team’s ability to win, win, win even without Kevin Durant.

They’re currently 24-13, a half game behind the 76ers in the East. Only three teams have better records, the Sixers, the Jazz and the Suns (!!). The Lakers and Clippers, once seen as their likely Finals opponents, are 3-7 and 4-6. And franchise records keep falling. Brooklyn is currently on a seven-game road winning streak, a franchise record, none of those wins with KD. Not to mention the Nets have James Harden, a legitimate MVP candidate for the first time in more than a decade.

Bottom line, when looking at the history of recently constructed super teams, the Nets look more like the Heat of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who started slowly, then took off, than the steamroller Celtics of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, or the Brooklyn disaster that was KG, Pierce and Deron Williams.

So what’s next? The big question is when do we again see Durant who between health and safety protocols and a tricky hamstring has missed 12 of the last 13 games (Nets record in that stretch: 10-3).

Steve Nash said the Nets are hoping for the beginning of the second half, on March 11 vs. Boston, for KD’s return, but no one is setting that in stone.

“We can definitely improve,” Nash said. “Kevin Durant is one of the all-time greats, so to add him to our team will make us better automatically.”

The Nets are 5-1 in the games the “Big Three” started, not what fans had hoped for. To be specific, The firm of Durant, Irving and Harden have been on the court 186 minutes total. On the other hand, they’re 16-3 with just two of them in the lineup. Not bad, not bad at all.

“It means a lot,” Harden said of the team’s momentum and resilience. “It shows a lot about this team. We’ve had guys in and out of the lineup, [but] next man up. Guys are ready to come in and play big minutes and contribute to the team.

“I think we’re molding it and building everybody’s confidence up to where you’re ready when your name is called to contribute. It’s great. I’m excited for our full team to be healthy and keep this thing going.”

“We just didn’t have a ton of time together early on,” Joe Harris said. “It wasn’t like James and a lot of the guys on the roster were here at the beginning of the season. There’s been a lot of shake-up over the course of the season. But we’re starting to get to a point where things are solidified, and you’re starting to see it on the court.”

So, Joe, Scary Hours are about to get scarier? The Nets are scary enough on offense already. As Tom Dowd recounts in his end-of-the-half stats recap...

At the close of the first half of the season going into the All-Star break, the Brooklyn Nets lead in the NBA in points per game (121.1), and offensive rating (118.2), while playing the NBA’s eighth-fastest pace (100.93).

Brooklyn is first in field goal percentage (50.0) and effective field goal percentage (58.8), second in 3-point percentage (40.7), third in 3-pointers made per game (15.3) and seventh in 3-pointers attempted per game (37.7). Brooklyn scores 38.0 percent of its points on 3-pointers, the fourth-highest rate in the NBA.

The offensive rating, if maintained, would be the highest in NBA history. How dominant? The Nets are the only team without a 20-point loss this season.

Individually, they have three of the top 15 scorers in the league, even if KD doesn’t qualify because he’s missed games, at Nos. 5, 8 and 15. Harden leads the league in assists by a wide margin and minutes as well. He’s third in triple doubles. Harris is No. 1 in 3-point shooting, Irving leads the NBA in offensive rating and DeAndre Jordan in both effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage.

Yikes!

But what about the defense? Of as Brian Lewis calls it, “THAT defense.” It’s been horrible at times but in their 10-1 stretch, they’re up to 18th. Not great, but not bad considering in the early days post-Harden (and without Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert), they were dead last.

Speaking of turning things around, Brooklyn has proven they can take a deep look at where they are and respond accordingly. It was their embarrassing loss to lowly Detroit on February 9 — and Nash’s taking them to task, they turned things around.

“Most importantly, we’re building a team,” Nash said after the Rockets game on Wednesday. “We’re defining roles and identity at both ends, the team is bonding, and there’s a great environment and atmosphere forming. So that’s the review of the first half for me in a nutshell.

“I think we definitely have to continually fight for improvement, invest in each other and, defensively, play like underdogs. That’s something that’s going to take us a long way.”

So, what’s next? Sean Marks has a lot of short-term flexibility (not so much long-term, at least for now.) The Nets have a number of deadlines coming up.

They’ll have to decide what to do with their three 10-day players —Tyler Cook, Andre Roberson and Iman Shumpert— and their two two-ways — Chris Chiozza and Reggie Perry— by this weekend. They could leave things alone, extending the three defensive specialists for another 10 days and not tinkering with the two-ways but that seems doubtful, at least based on history.

A little further down the road, there’s the March 25 trade deadline and the April 9 buyout deadline. According to various reports, Spencer Dinwiddie is drawing interest as he accelerates his rehab from a torn ACL and supposedly they have made calls on P.J. Tucker and Cedi Osman while awaiting other teams’ decisions on Andre Drummond, J.J. Redick, Blake Griffin and Otto Porter Jr.

For fans, there will be other deadlines as Barclays Center slowly re-opens, ratcheting up from 300 last week to hopefully a lot more by the post-season.

Marks hasn’t been shy about what his team’s goal is, if not detaling how he intends to get there.

“I think we all know what our ultimate goal is here, and we’re not going to shy away from that,” Marks said on YES Network. “So it’s a great challenge and great opportunity.”