The Brooklyn Nets started out the season as the laughingstock of the NBA. Despite the highest payroll in the league they spent the majority of their first 30 games with one of the five worst records in the NBA.
Luckily for the Nets, they play in the Eastern Conference, where a winning percentage of 40 is good enough to sneak into the playoffs. In most years a 10-21 start would be more than any team could recover from, but with the rampant injuries combined with underachieving teams a four game winning streak was enough to vault the Nets up the standings into the 8th seed.
With most downtrodden teams a four game winning streak after an awful start would be ignored as an anomaly, but with who they beat, and the way in which they beat them Nets fans have a glimmer of hope. Their first win during the streak came against the Western Conference leading Thunder, followed by a victory against the probable playoff participant in Cleveland, then the three seeded Atlanta Hawks and finally the hottest team in the league, the Golden State Warriors.
This win streak is all the more impressive considering they did this after losing arguably their best player in Brook Lopez. Then after winning two games Deron Williams was unable to play because of his chronically nonfunctioning ankles, yet Brooklyn still posted two more impressive victories. If the Nets can knock off Miami in their next game, they are announcing to the league that they are back (at least until the next injury).
What factors have contributed to the Nets resurgence?
- After Brook Lopez went down, Jason Kidd began to tinker with the lineup to find the best rotation for his remaining players. The first step was moving Paul Pierce into the starting lineup at power forward. Pierce is extremely strong and in the current NBA, where very few true post players remain, his lack of height does not cause problems. On offense he is using what is left of his quickness (along with his array of step backs) to dominate opposing fours. In their game against the Thunder, Pierce abused Serge Ibaka in the midrange and Ibaka is no slouch as a defensive four.
- Kidd then proceeded to move Deron Williams to shooting guard in favor of adding Shaun Livingston as a distributor for the starting unit. The Nets have plenty of players who can knock down shots, getting them to take the right shots at the right time without overtaxing their scorers with the burden of running the offense has paid dividends in Paul Pierce, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson especially.
- In moving Pierce and Livingston into the starting lineup, the Nets have given themselves an identity (something which Kevin Garnett stated was lacking Brooklyn). They are now a match up team. The Nets have several excellent isolation players and with Livingston running the show he can pick out the mismatches then go at those match ups in isolation. Essentially they are playing a fourth quarter offense for the entire game, which makes them elite in crunch time, because they are simply running their regular offense.
- Andrei Kirilenko coming back has been an under the radar boon to the Nets. AK-47 has come back and struck fear into the hearts of opponents with his “fearsome” dragon tatoo on his back. Kirilenko has come in, played very good defense and been the type of bench glue player that a team full of isolation scorers need.
While the tattoos bright colors have faded, the ridiculousness of a full back dragon tattoo has not.
- More importantly, Kirilenko’s comeback helps with Brooklyn’s identity problem. Earlier in the season Brooklyn would sometimes go big with Lopez and Garnett in the front court, they would sometimes push the pace to best serve Deron’s talents and they would sometimes give it to Joe Johnson for isolations. For a newly put together team, having that many different faces can be a recipe disaster. Now with AK back along with Teletovic and Pierce, the Nets know they are going with stretch perimeter fours at all times. Three point shooting power forwards like Pierce create even more space for isolation scoring which further aids their new identity.
- The Nets now have an identity, a rotation with a similar style no matter who is on the court and are using this to win games. I expect this to continue… at least until Pierce and Kevin Garnett get hurt.