Despite all the early season controversy swirling the Brooklyn Nets following their slow start, injuries, and Jason Kidd’s decision to make Lawrence Frank go away quietly into the night, the team is suddenly enjoying a hot streak and providing a sliver of optimism that this might not be a wasted season after all.
After thrashing the Knicks by a score of 103-80 this afternoon a Madison Square Garden the Nets are now 7-1 in the New Year, leaving them a mere 2 1/2 games back of the Raptors in the Atlantic Division standings. The return of Deron Williams to the lineup added the Nets’ best player to a group that is gradually starting to gel and resemble the unit most of us had envisioned prior the start of the season.
I’ll be the first to admit that I didn’t have hopes for this collection of players once Brook Lopez was lost for the year due to injury. Part of the reason KG came to Brooklyn was due to the belief that, with Lopez in the middle, he could slide back to the four and not have to toil each night and carry the brunt of the heavy lifting in the pivot. With that safety blanket gone, Garnett is back in the role he played in Boston the previous two seasons. Though this formula might not be sustainable for the long haul, the veteran seems to have regained his mid-range jumper and is anchoring a defense that continues to make strides.
The Nets obtained a bit of revenge on the Knicks for the beatdown they endured earlier in the season on their home floor, dominating from the start and causing the crowd to turn on Mike Woodson before it was over. Brooklyn built a lead large enough to allow coach Jason Kidd to rest most of his regulars for most of the fourth quarter.
While D-Will gave the team a lift off of the bench at the Garden, the star of the day for the Nets was Joe Johnson. Johnson has been on a tear of late, eclipsing 25 points in four of his last five games. He scored 20 of his team-high 26 points in the first half, doing most of his damage from beyond the arc. Johnson has been Brooklyn’s steadiest player and will likely be an All-Star for the seventh time next month.
Andray Blatche took advantage of New York’s soft interior defense to pour in 19 points on 9-for-12 shooting, once again providing a spark for Jason Kidd. There are few better stories in the NBA than the continued success of Shaun Livingston, and his length and athleticism in the backcourt has allowed Williams to take his time coming back from injury.
It might have taken a little longer than anyone anticipated, but the Nets seem to be getting their act together. Given the porous state of the Eastern Conference, with another few weeks of solid ball they could easily find themselves at the top of the standings in the division with a clear line to the fourth seed in the playoff picture.