Remember during the off-season when Nets principal owner Mikhail Prokhorov had this to say after pulling off the blockbuster trade that sent Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry to Brooklyn?
“Today, the basketball gods smiled on the Nets … this team will be dazzling to watch, and tough to compete against.”
Not so much. Especially after losing their leading scorer Brook Lopez for the year with a broken foot less than a quarter of the way into the season.
But are the tides turning in New York’s funkiest borough? After winning nine of their last 13 games, the Nets have crawled back to .500 and could be starting to gel at just the right time.
In the East it’s lonely up at the top, but there’s a wide open race for the #3 through #8 seeds. If Brooklyn keeps up their current pace they’ve got a real shot of enjoying home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Nets getting a boost with the Marcus Thornton trade.
In late February, Brooklyn shipped under-utilized veterans Jason Terry and Reggie Evans off to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Marcus Thornton.
Terry has been plagued with knee issues this season, averaging just 4.5 PPG. Evans has been OK on the glass, with five boards a night, but he’s barely scoring over a bucket per contest. Defense is nice, but in today’s NBA you’re expected to score something more than an occasional tip-in rebound.
Thornton’s numbers have been steadily declining since averaging 21.3 PPG in the 2010-11 season. Down to just 8.3 a game, the Kings cut ties with the shooting guard, hoping that a change of scenery will spark newfound success for all three players involved in the trade.
While his shooting was off in the win over Chicago, Thornton has definitely provided a scoring boost off the bench since his arrival to the east coast. He put up 9, 10, and then 25 his first three nights suiting up in a Nets’ uniform. He may be past his prime, but with his potential to catch fire, Brooklyn has added another weapon to help them make a late season push.
How high will they rise? Is a division title in the cards?
Despite their recent run, it will be no easy feat for the Nets to catch the Toronto Raptors in the Atlantic Division. Three and a half games is far from insurmountable, and they’ve got the 4th weakest schedule over the rest of the season. But Toronto’s got the easiest road, facing only six remaining opponents with a winning record.
Either way, the games are played on a basketball court and not on paper. Beating Toronto at home on March 10th would trim a full game off that lead, but they’ve got Miami twice on their slate as well as a match-up with the red-hot Houston Rockets.
Chicago’s also been on a tear, winning eight of their last 10, so squeaking into a top 4 seed on record alone probably won’t happen either. Assuming current trends continue for the rest of the season, I probably see them winding up either right where they’re at (#6) or hopping the Bullets into the fifth slot.
Most importantly, they’ll want to keep their momentum rolling and avoid sliding back into the bottom two seeds, hence becoming first-round fodder for the Pacers or the Heat.
Are we all getting worked up over nothing?
There’s certainly an argument to be made that jockeying for trailing positions in a two man race is as worthless as a mesh condom. As far as the media is concerned, the Eastern Conference Finals are already set. And for good reason, the #3 seeded Raptors would be on the outside looking in if they played in the West.
So, this scenario begs the question: do any of these other teams have a snowball’s chance in hell, or are they all essentially fighting over second place?
Reminds me of one of my all-time favorite movie exchanges, from The Karate Kid II:
Johnny: Come on, that’s not fair. I got second place.
John Kreese: Second place? Second place is no place. You’re off the team.
Johnny: That sucks. I did my best.
John Kreese: What?
Johnny: I said I did my best.
John Kreese: You’re nothing. You lost. You’re a loser!
And as I segue back to basketball here, the answer is: of course they’ve got a shot; every team is comprised of the twelve greatest players in the world.
Notice I said “a” shot, and not a “great” shot.
Speaking of which, did you see King James put up 61 the other night? Ridiculous.
The Brooklyn Nets do have something on their team that the other pretenders are lacking. Two experienced veterans who have already run the gauntlet, together, and won an NBA Championship.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, while both heading into the infamous “twilight” of their career, have the ability to take over games and will their team to a victory.
The problem, clearly, is stringing together enough upset magic to win a 7-game series against either of two teams that win three-quarters of their games and have extensive experience playing deep in the playoffs.
At the very least, Prokhorov’s prediction seems to be finally coming to fruition. The Nets are becoming dazzling to watch, and, at least of late, tough to compete against. How tough? We’ll find out soon enough.
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