For 48 minutes on an icy Tuesday night at Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets looked every bit the title contender many projected them to be before a disastrous 6-14 start relegated them to the bottom of even the most optimistic of power rankings around the league. On this night, their franchise point guard looked every bit the part as he dictated the tempo and proved to be an absolute game wrecker on offense against an All-NBA caliber defender. On this night, Brook Lopez showed the Atlantic Division leaders why he may be the single most underrated player in all of basketball. And yes, on this night, Kevin Garnett looked like a cagey vet who could be a key contributor on a contender; not an old man who stuck around a year too long.
It was the second win in a row for the Brooklyn Nets; and that’s the first time this season I’ve typed that. Against the Boston Celtics, the NBA got a glimpse of what this team could be; of what their billionaire owner envisioned when he footed the bill for the most expensive team in league history. Could this be the turning point for a team that’s been marred by injuries up to this point? Or is this just the first of many mirages this franchise is sure to display throughout what will eventually be a lost season?
This Week: 2-1 (7-14 overall)
Thursday, Dec, 5: Brooklyn suffers arguably their worst loss in franchise history in a 113-83 laugher against the New York Knicks
This was the Brooklyn Nets equivalent of an all-out apocalypse. After all the chatter from owner Mikhail Prokhorov these past few offseasons and all the posturing from Paul Pierce after his arrival in Brooklyn, the Nets got blown out on their home floor against the New York Knicks by 30 points. These were the same Knicks that came in on a nine-game losing steak; a group that couldn’t figure out how to protect the rim or play off of their superstar, Carmelo Anthony. But teams have had a knack for figuring things out against this year’s Nets, and it was no different in this one as New York shot in excess of 59 percent from 3 and had seven players finish in double figures. It was an evening that saw just about any fans in black and white head for the exits while the rest of the arena, noticeably decked out in orange and blue, celebrated a road victory that looked awfully comfortable for a supposed rival. Turning Knick fans into Net fans? Not quite yet. for Brooklyn, Brook Lopez finished with 24 points and nine rebounds in the loss.
Saturday, Dec. 7: Brook Lopez carries the Nets to a much needed road win in Milwaukee, 90-82
Not many centers can do what Brook Lopez does on offense and in Milwaukee it proved to be all the difference against a small Bucks front line that simply had no answer for Brooklyn’s star center. Lopez did it in every which way, scoring 32 points on 11-of-13 shooting from the field and 10-of-11 from the line, adding seven rebounds, four assists and blocking two shots. “We had no answer for Lopez. His size down low was too much for us,” Bucks coach Larry Drew said to the media after the loss. “We couldn’t play him one on one. We tried different things, but he got the ball out to their shooters. We tried everything.” Now, the Milwaukee Bucks aren’t exactly a juggernaut. In fact, they have a terrific chance to finish with one of the NBA’s worst records and they’ve been without their best player, center Larry Sanders, just about all season long. But for a team coming off a loss as bad as Brooklyn’s defeat at the hands of the New York Knicks, this was an inspired effort across the board from a team going through a ton of turmoil right now. Kudos to coach Jason Kidd for keeping this team focused.
Tuesday, Dec. 10: Deron Williams returns and dominates as the Nets hold off the Celtics, 104-96
The Boston Celtics were supposed to be forfeiting the 2013-14 season when they sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry to Brooklyn for draft picks and spare parts. And yet heading into this game, it was the Celtics who walked into Barclays Center with the swagger of a division leader against the wounded Nets. For Brooklyn, Deron Williams was back and Paul Pierce wasn’t about to miss his first regular season game against his former team. Pierce didn’t play particularly well, but Williams made all the difference in his first game back, finishing with 24 points and seven assists as the Nets played their most complete game of the season in an eight-point victory. “D-Will set the tone for how we were going to play tonight,” a jubilant and glowing Garnett told the media after the game. The sight of Williams pushing the ball on fast breaks, darting in and out of the lane, setting up teammates for open looks, and drilling long jumpers took Nets fans back to last February, a time when Deron was playing as well as any point guard in the NBA. For the Nets to contend, this is the Deron Williams they’ll need every night. In addition to Williams, Brook Lopez continued what has been a torrid stretch for him, bullying any big man Boston through at him in route to a super-efficient 24 point evening on 10-13 shooting. As for the old Celtics? Pierce came off the bench for the Nets and finished with four points and seven rebounds while Kevin Garnett had one of his best games of the season, posting an 11 point, nine rebound night and providing excellent defense on the interior.
LAST WEEK’S MVP: Brook Lopez
Brooklyn is on a two-game winning streak and the biggest reason for that has been Brook Lopez. How dominant has Lopez been? In the three games he played in this week, he’s averaged 26.6 points per game and shot 68 percent from the floor. Brook, primarily a 30-minute-per-game player throughout his career and early on this season, has seen an uptick in playing time from coach Kidd with the Nets in all kinds of trouble and he’s responded the way a true franchise big man should. His defense, once considered a serious weakness, is now a significant strength. So strong, in fact, that opponents are shooting 35.8 percent at the rim when Lopez is on the floor (that’s the lowest mark against any center in the league). If he can continue playing at this level and the Nets begin winning, Brook Lopez will garner some MVP consideration by season’s end.
LAST WEEK’S LVP: Joe Johnson
It’s been a weird year for Joe Johnson. He’s had a tendency to be “the best player in a loss” quite consistently in 2013-14, and it’s difficult to figure out why. Without a doubt, he’s been the best player on the floor for the Brooklyn Nets on most nights, but as the team has began to play better recently, Johnson’s play has receded, most recently in a win over the Boston Celtics which saw “Iso-Joe” score just seven points on 3-of-9 shooting in 38 minutes of action (he did, however, drill a dagger 3 late to put the game out of reach). Let’s face it, Joe is used to having the ball in his hands on offense and when he decides to isolate, the Nets become stagnant and easy to defend. All of last season, Johnson struggled to figure out how to consistently play off Deron Williams, culminating in a disastrous game seven against Chicago in round one of the Eastern Conference playoffs. With Williams now back on the floor and looking healthy again, Johnson will have to take a back seat. Can he find a role in this offense?
Paul Pierce: Sixth Man?
When Paul Pierce, a surefire Hall of Famer, was traded to the Brooklyn Nets this past offseason, surely the last thing he thought was he’d be used as a reserve. But that’s exactly what the Nets elected to do with “The Truth” in his first game back with the team after a broken hand sidelined him for four games; and after coming away with a victory, it may prove to be a sight we’ll all have to become accustomed to as the Nets begin their climb out of the bottom half of the Eastern Conference. The good news? Pierce appears to be OK with it. “It’s all about winning,” Pierce said to the media after the Nets defeated his former team. “If that’s what’s best for the team, then so be it.” The Brooklyn Nets spoke of sacrifice from day one this past offseason, and Pierce looks to be ready to do exactly that.
The Kidd/Frank Feud: Worse than we thought
How bad did things get between Jason Kidd and Lawrence Frank? According to NBA.com and ESPN, bad enough to fracture their relationship completely:
“Sit the (expletive) down! I’m the coach of this (13-letter word) team! When you’re on the bench, don’t (expletive) move,” Kidd said, according to NBA.com reporter David Aldridge. The report did not offer further details of what the 13-letter word was.
The argument ultimately led to Frank being reassigned to a reduced role which Kidd described as “doing daily reports.”
After campaigning for Frank all offseason, it appears Jason Kidd has all but run his former lead assistant out of Brooklyn for good. Coincidentally (or not?), the Brooklyn Nets have played better of late. Was Kidd right? Is anyone right when 13 letter words are involved?
The Brooklyn Nets get a tough back-to-back that starts Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers at Barclays Center and finishes up in Detroit on Friday night. Both teams have already defeated the Nets this season, but Brooklyn is much closer to full strength now. Can this team fight its way back to relevance?