Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Brooklyn Nets: Half Way Through Borough's Inaugural NBA Season

From the desk of:   THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

BROOKLYN NETS - First Half Report:

Forty One Games Of Sizzle, Sputter, Streaks and Struggles

That's it.  That's all you get.  The 2012-2013 intra-city rivalry against the Knicks is over.  Let's hear it for the schedule makers.  If the deities of basketball will it, perhaps the Nets and Knicks will meet up in the playoffs.

Year one in the Battle of the Boroughs goes to.....  It's a tie.  Not only was the first ever meeting between Brooklyn and Manhattan supposed to take place on November 1st, their game was also  supposed to open up the 2012-2013 regular season.  But Hurricane Sandy had other ideas.  The first showdown would have to wait.  Eventually they did meet, on November 26th at Barclays Center.  In the first meeting between the two, Brooklyn came out victorious in a 96-89 overtime thriller.  When they met again on December 11th for the second time at Barclays, it was the Knicks who came away winning on a last second shot in a 100-97 chiller.  Just eight days later, in Brooklyn's first game at Madison Square Garden, Manhattan flexed.  The establishment came down on the Nets with a heavy hand during a lop-sided 100-86 lesson.  Then on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Nets evened the series by defeating the Knicks 88-85, in their second visit to the Garden.

The Nets are now half way into their inaugural season in the Borough of Kings.  Forty one games have been played.  They own a 25-16 record, good for second place and just one game behind the first place Knicks in the Atlantic Division standings.  The Nets also have a division best 9-3 record against their Atlantic foes.  They are one of five Eastern Conference teams playing above a .600 win percentage.  The Brooks currently rank fourth in the conference.  They are tied with the Bulls for most conference wins.  In twenty three games at Barclays Center, the Nets own a 16-7 mark.  They are playing .500 on the road, with a 9-9 record.

Brooklyn's inaugural season in the NBA commenced with an 11-4 record in November.  The month was highlighted by two wins over the Celtics, a win over the Clippers, and Brooklyn's first victory in the Battle of the Boroughs over the Knicks.

But that didn't translate into good times in December.  An injury to Brook Lopez, an overall lack of cohesion, bowing down to stiffer competition, and a pink slip for Avery Johnson marred the month, and even soured the mood around downtown Brooklyn.  In a reversal of fortunes, the Nets struggled to a 5-11 record in December.  Speculation started running rampant accusing the Nets of not being able to beat teams with winning records.  The numbers were starting to bear that out.  Through two full months, the Nets only compiled a 4-13 record versus teams playing above the .500 level.  Meanwhile, twelve of their sixteen wins to this point came against sub .500 teams.  The list of good teams to defeat the Nets grew by the day - Heat, Thunder, Warriors, Bucks, Knicks, Bulls, Jazz, Celtics, and Spurs.

On Christmas Day, the Nets put forth four brutal quarters in their third encounter versus Boston.  The Celtics handed Brooklyn a most embarrassing defeat - one that inspired changes.  When the Nets followed up the Celtics loss with yet another pitiful effort against the Milwaukee Bucks, those changes came post haste.  Because November's start became a distant memory, and the loss against the Bucks dropped the Nets to 14-14, the Nets owner felt compelled to make a change himself.  After twenty eight games into Brooklyn's inaugural season, Mikhail Prokhorov dismissed Avery Johnson as head coach.  It was reported GM Billy King tried lobbying on Avery Johnson's behalf, but to no avail.  P.J. Carlesimo was promoted from the staff, and named interim coach of the Nets.

Since then, the Brooklyn Nets have been on fire.  The Nets won their first two games under P.J. but dropped game three in San Antonio to end the 2012 calendar year.

So far, it has been a Happy New Year on Flatbush Avenue.  The Nets opened 2013 with a win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.  Then proceeded to win their next six games, marked by additional victories over the Pacers, Hawks, and the New York Knicks.  The Nets have lost once in January, and are now 11-2 under coach P.J. Carlesimo.

With a very noticeable improvement in their overall play under P.J., it has become clear to many the Nets stopped responding to former coach Avery Johnson.  The most notable differences have come from Deron Williams and Kris Humphries.  Coach Johnson's dismissal came uncomfortably soon after Williams expressed his issues with Avery Johnson's system to the media.  However, Deron Williams did not escape some mild criticism, as he was also widely rumored to have been at the root of Jerry Sloan's firing in Utah as well.  Kris Humphries was nursing a sprained ankle in December.  But even more troubling to his performance was his inability to escape Avery Johnson's dog house.  But he is out now.  And against the Knicks Monday afternoon, he flourished.

Overall, the ageless one Jerry Stackhouse, Marshon Brooks, C.J. Watson, and Keith Bogans have been very good off the bench.  But extra mention should be made for Andray Blatch and Reggie Evans.  Despite being questioned involving a hotel incident, Blatch has been making the most of a second chance after being jettisoned by the Wizards.  By the end of the season, he could conceivably play himself into contention for the NBA's 6th Man award.  Reggie Evans has been tremendous on the boards this season.

If you're asking me, this most recent win over the Knicks was Joe Johnson's signature game since joining the Brooklyn Nets.  He is averaging 17.4 points per game, and seems to be just getting started.  He is exerting himself more, as he and Deron Williams continue working together.  If you remember, there was much hype surrounding Billy King's newly formed, Brooklyn Backcourt.  But Deron Williams continues to be a very interesting case study.  He has been streaky, and is not quite playing up to the level he exhibited in Utah with the Jazz.

The biggest difference maker on the Nets has no doubt been a healthy Brook Lopez.  Almost two years of having to deal with Dwight Howard rumors would have broken a lesser man.  But Brook Lopez responded this season by, so far, becoming the NBA's top scoring center.

Every player brings something different to the court.  That's why I left Crash for last.  Gerald Wallace is the backbone of this team.  This guy is indefatigable.  His nickname is well earned.

With regards to the battle for the city, the Knicks have had problems on the court, off the court, and along side the court.  But have the battle lines really been drawn?  Yes, kind of.  But a fierce playoff series between the two should expedite the process.  There's the second half of the season to play first.  Then, who knows?


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