This year’s Nets, the team that plays its games in Brooklyn, has a record of 31-22 and is ranked fourth in the Eastern Conference entering the final half of the season. Coach P.J. Carlesimo’s squad cruised into the All-Star break on a high note with back-to-back victories over two playoff contenders.
The move from Jersey to Brooklyn has gone better than most expected. Coming to New York City and sticking a flag in the ground where the majority of the population bleeds blue and orange was certainly no small feat.
Things are looking up for these Nets, but the second leg of the journey won’t be without its fair share of obstacles and challenges.
The starting backcourt is tired and banged up, and the team will play 17 of its final 29 games away from the Barclays Center. Five of those road contests include visits to the Dallas Mavericks, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trailblazers, Denver Nuggets and Utah Jazz.
With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at some post All-Star Break predictions for the 2012-13 Nets.
THE NETS WILL MAKE A TRADE BEFORE THE DEADLINE
In early November, SB Nation reported that owner Mikhail Prokhorov told the media that he would deem this season a success if the Nets made the Eastern Conference Finals. At the time, those expectations didn’t seem totally unreasonable; especially for a team whose roster featured names like Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace.
But the star trio has underachieved to this point, and D-Will is now dealing with inflammation in both of his ankles that will likely require offseason surgery.
At 31-22, Brooklyn is still in contention despite these issues. One trade could be all the team needs to make a deep playoff run.
Nets fans should anticipate Prokhorov and general manager Billy King making a move to improve the roster before the deadline is up.
DERON WILLIAMS WILL CONTINUE TO STRUGGLE
There’s no reason to believe Deron Williams will bounce back in the second half of the season.
ESPN reports have suggested that Williams will require offseason surgery to repair his inflamed ankles. Prior to the start of the 2012-13 campaign, the Daily Newsreported that he was given a cortisone shot in his left ankle to treat inflammation caused by a bone spur.
In his last six games, Williams averaged just 5.7 assists and 13.7 points on 38.7 percent shooting.
If D-Will has to play injured, it will only exacerbate the recent decline in his play.
C.J. WATSON, TYSHAWN TAYLOR, AND MARSHON BROOKS WILL SEE INCREASED MINUTES
During a preseason news conference, GM Billy King called Deron Williams and Joe Johnson the NBA’s best backcourt (via ESPN New York). Unfortunately, the tandem hasn’t been able to live up to that label, due in part to injury and fatigue.
The All-Star break offered a nice four-day rest for Johnson, but the 31-year-old shooting guard is averaging nearly 38 minutes per game this season. Look for coach P.J. Carlesimo to give more minutes to second-year pro MarShon Brooks to keep Johnson fresh for the stretch run.
Brooks only saw sporadic playing time off the bench during the first half of the season, but has shown potential as a scorer. He accounted for nine points in 15 minutes in the overtime win over the Indiana Pacers on February 11.
In addition to his inflamed ankles, D-Will has been dealing with a sprained right shooting wrist while playing an average of 36.5 minutes per game. In an interview with Michael Kay on ESPN 98.7 FM, P.J. Carlesimo said he needs to do a better job of managing his point guard’s minutes.
Less playing time for Williams means more minutes for backups C.J. Watson and Tyshawn Taylor. Watson has shown he’s capable of carrying the load this season. He scored 25 points in 36 minutes in the win over the Nuggets last Wednesday. Taylor has also shown flashes in recent weeks. The rookie scored 12 points in 34 minutes in the win over the Pacers.
If Brooks, Watson and Taylor continue to prove they can be assets, it will go a long way toward helping Carlesimo develop a solid backcourt rotation.
P.J. CARLESIMO WILL EMPLOY A MORE TRANSITION-ORIENTED OFFENSE
The Nets need to find an identity on offense.
Brooklyn currently ranks 20th in the league in scoring, averaging 95.2 points per game. The offensive struggles have been due in large part to the Nets’ inability to generate easy transition baskets. The team prefers to play half-court oriented style, a major reason they are last in the league in pace.
The Nets get into trouble when they rely too heavily on isolation plays involving Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson. Lopez has been highly-productive, averaging 19 points per game, but the offense is at its best when the ball is moved around the perimeter in search of an open shooter.
If the Nets are able to trade for Paul Millsap or Carlos Boozer, Carlesimo could also choose to implement more pick-and-roll into the offense. D-Will and Boozer were a formidable pick-and-roll tandem when they played together in Utah.
THE NETS WILL SECURE A TOP-5 SEED IN THE EAST
The Nets will secure a top-five seed in the Eastern Conference if Brook Lopez stays healthy and the team continues to get solid contributions from the bench.
The East is weak this year.
The Nets’ main competition for a top-five seed is the Atlanta Hawks, who are expected to deal Josh Smith (via Yahoo Sports h/t SB Nation), and the Boston Celtics, who will be without Rajon Rondo for the rest of the season.
Brooklyn proved it can beat good teams with big wins over the Nuggets and Pacers just before the All-Star break. The Nets want to be an elite team, and they will have something to prove after going 13-20 against .500-or-better teams.
Crucial games versus the Bucks, Grizzlies and Rockets to begin the second half of the season will go a long way toward telling us where this team is at.
This article originally appeared on Bleacher Report.