It takes time to get to where you hope to go. When you’re starting over again, you have to give yourself a chance to see what works and time to build something sustainable. You have to trust that what you’re doing is right and live with the results. And if everything goes according to plan, it gives you an extra bounce in your step. Of course, when your best player goes down with a sprained MCL, that bounce, literally and figuratively, can be less exhilarating.
Still, fans shouldn’t forget that in December, the Brooklyn Nets had the best month in franchise history. The team went 15-1 and launched themselves right back into contention. After a rocky first month and a half of the season, the team regained their equilibrium and took off. The Nets Man Up podcast broke the numbers down on a magical month in Brooklyn:
In the Month of December the Nets— Nets Man Up Podcast (@NetsManUp_) January 1, 2023
Finished with a 12-1 Record and an 11 game Win Streak
Ranked 1st in Offensive Rating (121.4)
Ranked 1st in eFG% (61.6%)
Ranked 2nd in Net Rating (+8.4)
Ranked 10th in Def Rating (113.0)
One of the Best Months in Franchise History pic.twitter.com/4Q4ZjZn1t4
Considering how dreadful the Nets defense appeared to be early on, being top 10 for an entire month is a welcome development. After a win against the Washington Wizards on December 12, Kevin Durant spoke about the defense and said:
“Some of the times throughout the game, you want to stay with your own man, sometimes you don’t have to switch the action. You want to continue to keep those matchups the way you want to keep them. So in order for us to be a good team, we can’t just lazy switch, point-switch, and have a small and a big when we don’t have to. And I think we’re figuring that out as well. And we want to be a team that can switch out and guard multiple players.”
We got versatile defenders but we don’t want to put a smaller matchup on a bigger matchup or vice versa. Cause, we call it ‘blender,’ with guys driving and swinging and kicking and now we’re in scramble mode. So we want to keep the ball in front, and I think that’s what we’re working on now.”
Nic Claxton played such a huge role in the team’s defensive resurgence. In December, opponents only shot 41.4 percent when Clax was defending them. Along with that, he averaged over three blocks a game and eight rebounds a night as well. Claxton has grown in to an elite defender and someone that is the anchor of the team’s defense. He locks down the paint, can switch out on to perimeter players, and helps the team when they get out in transition.
That works. Amazingly, that was the first buzzer beater of Irving’s career.
Player of the month: Kevin Durant
Up the ladder he goes! In December, KD passed basketball Hall of Famers John Havlicek, Paul Pierce, and Tim Duncan on the all time NBA scoring list. Last month, he averaged around 28 points, eight rebounds, and five assists a night on .579/.377/.944 shooting splits. At the beginning of the season, his three point shot wasn’t there. However, it’s gradually picked up as the year’s progressed and he’s back to making threes at his normal clip. Durant has been everything you can ask for in a franchise player and is a strong contender for Most Valuable Player. It would be an amazing honor for one of the game’s all time greats in the third act of his career.
Runner up goes to Kyrie Irving. Irving was in full control throughout the month as he averaged around 26 points, five rebounds, and five assists a game on .489/.364/.912 splits. What makes Irving so special is that he can heat up at a moment’s notice and take over the game. Even if he’s in a slump, all it takes is one basket and it’s on. He’s carried the team in the clutch and has played at an All Star level this season. It feels as if all the chaos from early November is in the rearview mirror. Irving is playing his basketball as a member of the Nets and is helping to push the team to new heights.
Key games to watch
- January 12 vs. Boston
Since 2016, the Celtics have been one of the banner franchises in the NBA. They’ve made it to the Eastern Conference finals four times and won the East last season before falling short to the Golden State Warriors in the Finals. Boston has been consistently excellent and currently possess the best record in the NBA. They also hold the honor of being the only team to beat the Nets in the month of December, and are on an eight-game winning streak (regular season + playoffs) vs. Brooklyn.
The Nets faced some great tests and passed with flying colors in December. Now, though will be their biggest test of the season. It’s a big game and one that will have all eyes on it as the first half of the TNT Thursday doubleheader. A win would be an exclamation point on the excellent run the team has been on.
- January 20 at Utah Jazz
Road trips are hard. Playing the second night of a back-to-back and third game in four nights on the road while traveling into high altitude is a HELLACIOUS task even on the best of days. It becomes even harder when you take in to account the Jazz have managed to exceed everyone’s expectations this year. They have been absolutely magnificent on offense, currently averaging 116 points per 100 possessions. The Jazz have been struggling recently, but are always tough in Salt Lake City. Brooklyn hasn’t won a game in Utah since February 27, 2016. No KD here either. It’s within that two-week evaluation window.
The last time the Nets went into a game like this, the regulars sat out and the rest of the rotation put on a tour de force and came away with a stunning victory against the Pacers. The team has preached a “stay ready” mentality, and it’ll be on display once again. It’s also Royce O’Neale’s return game to Utah after spending the first five seasons of his career there.
- January 25 at Philadelphia
Joel Embiid is dealing with left foot soreness, but the injury isn’t expected to be a long term concern. The question of how the Nets will handle Embiid is one that will define what they do at the trading deadline and in the buyout market if they choose to do so.
In the meantime, the Nets will look to derail James Harden. The last time Brooklyn saw their old teammate, they put the clamps on him in a dominant Brooklyn win. Harden recently got back from a right foot strain, and he surprisingly leads the NBA in minutes at 38 per game. It seems counterintuitive to
- January 30 vs. the Los Angeles Lakers
One more stop on the train to catch Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. LeBron James is within striking distance of the NBA all time scoring record and while he probably won’t be surpassing Cap on this night, it’s still going to be fun to see him in town.
James and Durant have been two of the most defining players in this era of NBA basketball. They’ve gone shot for shot on many an occasion. Every Finals between 2011-2020 had at least one of them in it. They were one and two in scoring throughout the 2010s. They’ve been two of the leaders in the various evolutions of the game. Their free agency decisions shaped the course of NBA history on multiple occasions and will reverberate even after they’re long retired. Off the court, they both have well regarded multimedia companies that have produced excellent work that’s been well received by the masses. They’re a sure bet to make special plays every time they’re on the court, and we’re lucky to have watched them grow into the legends that inspire the current and next generation of ball players.
Due to the injury Durant suffered against the Miami Heat on Sunday, the long awaited rematch may be in doubt. If Durant is out, this matchup still promises to be incredibly intriguing. The Lakers have finally turned things around and due to the struggles of the teams ahead of them (the Phoenix Suns and LA Clippers), are right back in the playoff hunt.
Player to watch: TJ Warren
Amidst all the chaos of the Nets’ offseason, the team made a great pickup when they signed Warren for the veterans minimum. Warren made his return in early December and has been a solid contributor coming off the bench. He can get his own shot, score at all three levels, and gives them some much needed size on the wings. Warren allows the Nets to fully experiment with a bunch of lineup combinations and have the versatility to match up with teams across the league. He might take on a bigger role if Durant is out, but he’s shown that he’s able to step up and contribute whenever his number is called.