Mar 17, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets forward Paul Pierce (34) looks to pass during the third quarter against the Phoenix Suns at Barclays Center. Brooklyn Nets won 108-95. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Should the Brooklyn Nets be Eastern Conference Favorites?

The Brooklyn Nets aren’t flying under the radar anymore. With a record of 10-21 at the turn of the year, they looked like an old team that would not be listening to a word Jason Kidd had to say. To say they’ve turned things around would be an understatement. In 2014, they are 24-10 and are laying waste to some of the best teams in the league.

In those 34 games, the Nets are averaging 98.3 points, while allowing just 95.5. They’re shooting 46.3 percent as a team, allowing 45.1 to their opponents. They’re taking care of the ball well, turning it over 13.7 times per game, while forcing 17.0 per game. Rebounding is still a major sore spot, as they’re getting 36.4 rebounds with their opponents pulling down 42.6 (including 11.2 offensive).

Have they just gone through a very favorable spot in their schedule? I don’t think so. 34 games isn’t a small sample size. Let’s take a quick look through their schedule over the last month to find the quality wins (and bad losses):

Quality Wins

3/17/14 vs. Phoenix Suns (108-95)
3/12/14 at Miami Heat (96-95)
3/5/14 vs. Memphis Grizzlies (103-94)
3/3/14 vs. Chicago Bulls (96-80)

Bad Losses

3/7/14 at Boston Celtics (84-91)
2/26/14 at Portland Trail Blazers (80-124)

While there’s no shame in losing to the Blazers, losing by 44 hurts. That was in the midst of a seven-game road trip, but the Nets hadn’t played for two days, so there’s no excuse there. Inexplicably, the Nets had a back-to-back and routed the Denver Nuggets 112-89 the next night.

So, let’s get back to the question — should the Nets be considered the Eastern Conference favorites? After all, the Miami Heat have hit a rough patch and are 3-5 over their last eight games. The Indiana Pacers are 4-4 over their last eight games and haven’t beaten a quality team since a February 7 118-113 win over the Portland Trail Blazers.

Mar 9, 2014; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets point guard Deron Williams (8) advances the ball during the third quarter against the Sacramento Kings at Barclays Center. Brooklyn Nets won 104-89. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not ready to knock the Heat off of their pedestal just yet and nobody wants to have to go on the road in the playoffs, but there are a lot of positive signs for the Nets right now.

Over their last 10 games, only Deron Williams (34.1) and Joe Johnson (31.3) have played over 30 minutes per game. They are an older team and they certainly don’t want to have to burn the candle at both ends just to get into the playoffs. Luckily, they’re deep and they’ve been getting contributions from a number of different sources.

Would it surprise you to learn the Nets leading scorer over their last 10 games is Williams, with just 15.6 points per game? Johnson is at 15.3, with Paul Pierce at 13.9 and Marcus Thornton at 12.6. If Brook Lopez and Kevin Garnett were somewhat healthy, that rebounding issue would be dealt with and there’d be no question that the Nets would have to be considered as one of the favorites.

Unfortunately, Lopez isn’t coming back and Garnett has been plagued by back spasms. Mason Plumlee is serviceable and Andray Blatche is decent, but the Nets are going to have a lot of trouble if they’re having to defend multiple shots every time down the court. Garnett is one of the elite defensive rebounders in NBA history, but he’s a shell of his former self and unless they find the fountain of youth, he’s not going to make enough of a difference.

Are the Nets the Eastern Conference favorites? No. They’re the hottest team in the East, winning eight of their last 10. They’re just 2.5 games back of earning the No. 3 seed and home court in the first round of the NBA playoffs. They could absolutely beat the Pacers or the Heat in a series…but until they actually prove that, it would be foolish to vault them to that elite status.

Tags: Brooklyn Nets

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