There’s no doubt that the Brooklyn Nets wanted this All-Star break to be a time when they could feel great about themselves after an awful start to their season that hit them like a ton of bricks.
There’s also no doubt that even after a disappointing 92-76 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Thursday night, they still had plenty of reasons to feel that way. It didn’t seem so in Chicago when the Bulls shut the Nets down once again headed into All-Star weekend, but that one loss doesn’t take away from the enormous strides Brooklyn has made since the start of the calendar year.
After beginning what was expected to be a championship-contending season at a head-scratching 10-21, the Nets have considerably turned things around and gone 14-6 since entering the new year. Brooklyn realized during this stretch that the missing ingredient all along was defense. They’ve allowed an average of just 95 points per game over the last 20. And if there’s anything a team can hang their hat on more times than not, it’s defense. Especially when it’s played at that level.
But that’s not where the hope ends for Jason Kidd’s group. Another substantial portion of it resides in Kidd’s major improvements as a coach. He’s finally gotten them to buy into the message of not only playing together, but also giving their best effort almost every night.
Although that sounds like something that’s taken for granted more times than not, Nets fans were begging for it when their team was getting demolished on what seemed like every other night until the ball dropped in Times Square.
And let’s not forget about the all-important health factor. Brook Lopez isn’t likely to return, but other major contributors in Deron Williams, Paul Pierce and Andrei Kirilenko are starting to play more consistently recently after dealing with injuries.
Because they’ve finally discovered a formula that’s been successful over the last almost quarter of the season, health will ultimately be the defining factor for the Nets moving forward. If their best players can remain on the floor, they could most certainly jump from the seventh spot in the East up to third. The conference is about as weak as a lit candle in the wind.
In the end, I still don’t see them making it past the second round of the playoffs without Lopez, but finishing off the season strong will nonetheless be great for their confidence when they go for it all again next season.