Saturday, March 16, 2013

Brooklyn Nets: Atlantic Division Title Up For Grabs

From the desk of:   THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH

BROOKLYN NETS - The Atlantic Division Flag Can Be Won If The Brooks Stay Consistent Through An Eight Game Road Trip.

A Nets Win Coupled With A Knicks Loss On Sunday Creates A Tie
For The Atlantic Division Lead.
1) - Knicks  38-25   .603
2) - NETS    38-27   .585

If no one believed a tangible rivalry existed between the Knicks and Nets before, the two teams are now sitting on a powder keg.  The Nets are just four wins away from clinching their first playoff berth since Jason Kidd led them into the 2007 post-season.  Jason Kidd and recently added Kenyon Martin are now trying to help stave off the Nets as members of the New York Knicks.  If the Nets overtake the Knicks, and hold on to win an Atlantic Division title instead of the heavily favored Knickerbockers, this town is sure to go BOOM! - sending shock waves through every city playground from Coney Island up to Rucker Park.  Not to mention, a division flag would be a giant step forward for Mikhail Prokhorov, and a major blow to James Dolan.

Perchance to dream, or seize the moment?  Which will it be?

Spring nears.  For the Nets, opportunity lies closer.  The NBA's regular season is coming around the far turn, and heading into the home stretch.  The Atlantic Division is less settled now, than at any other time this season.  One game separates Brooklyn from the New York Knicks, and first place.   Thank the Knicks horrendous west coast swing and current three game losing streak for setting up a super Sunday of hoops.  The Nets will host the Atlanta Hawks at Barclays Center.  While the Knicks continue their problematic road trip against the L.A. Clippers.  A Nets win and a Knicks loss, will result in a tie for the Atlantic Division lead.

The Nets enter Sunday's game with a 38-27 record.  They are 22-13 at home, and 2-1 versus the Hawks this season.  The Nets won the last two meetings.  Atlanta won the first game between them. The Hawks are in fifth place (tied with Chicago), just two games behind fourth seeded Brooklyn in the Eastern Conference standings.

Seventeen games remain in Brooklyn's inaugrual season.  After defeating New Orleans this past  Tuesday, Flatbush has been idle the last four days.  The Nets will certainly need the rest.  After facing the Hawks, Brooklyn will embark on an eight game, seventeen day road trip that will take them through Detroit, Dallas, L.A. (Clippers), Phoenix, Portland, Denver, Utah, and finally Cleveland. Such a swing can potentially make or break Brooklyn's season.  So far they are 16-14 on the road.  Should they survive the journey in relatively decent shape, five of their last eight games of the season will be played at Barclays.

After a remarkable 18-5 start, the Knicks are playing exactly .500 basketball since.  One of those five losses came on November 26th against the Nets in the first ever meeting between the boroughs.  Another way of viewing the Knicks season is they are playing under .500 basketball since Christmas.  Pick your poison.  Their season long strangle-hold on the Atlantic Division last came under threat on February 22nd, when a Nets win over Houston could have placed them within a game of the division lead.  But the Nets lost to the Rockets and failed to close the gap.  This past Tuesday they had another chance to close within 1 1/2 games of the Knicks, but failed again with a brutal loss to Philadelphia.

This time, the Knicks lured Brooklyn to within one game by their own device.  Or should I say, demise?  Amare Stoudemire was recently lost for the rest of the regular season, and for the moment, Carmelo Anthony appears to be a compromised (knee) player, and will remain so, for the foreseeable future.  Melo will benefit from the Knicks two day break in the schedule.  But how effectively will he perform down the stretch?  Watching Melo play these last two games with an ailing knee, and listening to him comment afterwards, provided ample reason to wonder if he can continue the pounding it takes to succeed through June.

Meanwhile, I'd say the Nets two biggest concerns have been Deron Williams and Joe Johnson.  Accused of not being as dynamic as advertised prior to the start of the season, Brooklyn's front court certainly have had their problems this season.  However, dynamic is exactly what Deron Williams has been since receiving treatment on his barking ankles.  He is currently playing the best ball of his Nets career, at just the right time.  After missing a few games, Deron's back-court mate is making a return from a bruised heel.  Joe Johnson is expected to play Sunday against his former team.  If he can remain healthy down the final stretch of the season, Joe is going to bury buckets in crunch time.  Otherwise, the Nets have no major injuries to speak of.  Other than playing time and personnel issues at forward, they are heading into the stretch run in good shape.  The Knicks however, seem to be  creeping towards an injurious, and ruinous finish.  Outside of Tyson Chandler, the Knicks are presently facing some type of dilemma at every position.

If the Nets want it, the Atlantic Division can be had.


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