SUNDAY NIGHT FINAL:
Flatbush Improves Season Record To 44-36,
and 28-12 At Barclays Center.
At present, the overriding sense of the Nets seems considerably better than it did this time last season. That's somewhat odd considering the team will not match last year's 49 victory total, and Brook Lopez has missed most of another season, yet technically remains the team's leading average scorer.
Despite Sunday's 97-88 victory over the Magic, the next two games against the Knicks, and Cleveland should change little in the Eastern Conference standings. Brooklyn appears settled into the 5th seed behind the Toronto Raptors, and ahead of the Washington Wizards.
The fact last year's team lost the opening round of the playoffs in seven games to the depleted Chicago Bulls escapes no one. It was a disappointing ending to say the least. Gerald Wallace didn't even know what his role was.
This season, Jason Kidd placed everyone exactly where they needed to be. Except maybe for LeBron James, the Nets have certainly gained league wide attention this season with the way they've surged since January. But on April 19th, the Nets odyssey to justify all Billy King's off-season maneuverings truly begins. The general manager has made no secret of where he believes this team should finish. The owner still has one year left on his championship mandate, but Billy King wants to win now.
In my more pragmatic view, this team must advance to the second round, and still perhaps may need to advance into the conference finals in order for the season to be deemed successful.
BILLY KING'S SUCCESS IS CONNECTED TO THE FOOT BONE
While the Nets are a somewhat versatile, and very deep team when healthy, if Deron Williams doesn't lead them, the Nets won't get far.
According to his 36-minute averages, Deron is averaging 16.0 points, and 7.0 assists this season. But when you start any argument with a cushion, it means you're hiding something. As such, his regular per-game averages are not as forgiving - 14.3 points, and only 6.2 assists per game.
Observant eyes have watched Williams' game devolve over the last three seasons. He has yet to recapture his level of play of just two seasons ago, and, his days in Utah are but a dot in the rear view mirror now. At 29-years old, the burst in his first step is seemingly all but gone. Ankle problems have no doubt had their effects during his time with the Nets, and he just missed another two games with a sore foot. All told, he will have missed roughly 20 games this season.
Things may be looking up though. Over his last 22 games, Deron Williams has averaged 33.6 minutes, 15.1 points, and 5.7 assists. Over that stretch, he scored 20 points or more 6 times. He had only done that 7 times in his previous 40 games spanning October through February. While his numbers still aren't on par with his Utah days, he is nonetheless making modest improvement at the right time.
Sunday evening was Deron's first game back after missing the previous two. He played 35 minutes against the Orlando Magic, scored 16 points, and had 5 assists. So, at least there's been a level of consistency about him.
Out of anyone associated with the team, Deron Williams' and Billy King's reputations seem poised to suffer the most. Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Kidd all have rings, and should be able to walk away from any potential defeat untarnished, and with relative peace of mind.
Billy King, however, failed to achieve a championship with Allen Iverson in Philadelphia, and four years ago, decided to invest max money, and make another run with Deron Williams, who in turn committed to staying in Brooklyn.
After years spent building up to this moment, failing again in Brooklyn, may be harder for him to compartmentalize. Deron Williams is equally under the microscope, and is expected to perform like the franchise player Billy King thought he traded for.
They both bound themselves to the Borough of Brooklyn, and now both bear the majority of responsibility for winning Flatbush their first NBA title.
THIS IS NO ORDINARY FLATBUSH AVENUE BENCH
While the pressure is certainly on Deron Williams to perform, the weight of the world actually is not. Shaun Williams is expected back in time for the playoffs, and together with Joe Johnson, Flatbush still boasts one of the more potentially formidable back courts in the league.
Mirza Teletovic led all scorers Sunday night with 20 points off the bench, and pulled down 6 rebounds. With Teletovic and Mason Plumlee at the forwards, and Andray Blatche at center, there are very few teams in the league that can sub-in entire front courts quite like Brooklyn can. One of the best things these guys do is get to the line.
Throw Andrei Kirilenko into the mix, while still having a quality two-threat like Marcus Thornton, and the Nets bench almost suffers from an embarrassment of riches.
Kevin Garnett is back, and played extended minutes against the Magic. Since his return, the battle of the boards has turned back in the Nets favor. Kevin pulled down 7 rebounds (5 defensive) in 19 minutes. The Nets out-rebounded the Magic by a 43-31 margin.
Mason Plumlee held down the fort well in Garnett's absence, and continues to be the big man on campus. His work along the offensive baseline has been highly productive, and his confidence is soaring. Against the Magic, there were two instances where he was a little lackadaisical with the ball, and turned it over, but that's correctable. Paying more attention to detail should rectify that. Otherwise, Mason pulled down a game high 11 boards with 5 coming on the offensive end, and completed another double-double with 17 points in 26 minutes off the bench. The rookie will enter into his first NBA playoffs on the heels of playing his best ball of the season.
Two Games Left In Regular Season:
Tuesday - vs. N.Y. Knicks
Wednesday - @ Cleveland