The New York Knicks made a lot of headlines earlier in the season for a hot start, but it's the other borough boasting more wins. And the Nets displayed in a home-and-home with the Milwaukee Bucks that they can win in multiple ways.
Brooklyn grabbed its 33rd win of the season Wednesday night in Milwaukee, 97-94, pulling the Nets ahead of the Knicks in the win column. The Knicks missed an opportunity to keep pace by losing, 125-91, in Indiana.
A night after Joe Johnson played the hero against the Bucks in the Barclays Center, draining not one but two daggers, the Nets reserves stole the show on the road. C.J. Watson emerged as Deron Williams' running mate and the duo combined to score 40 points and dish out 14 assists.
With the Nets reeling, Watson powered in a layup with 15 seconds remaining to put the Nets ahead, 96-92. Monta Ellis would then miss three straight free-throws after a late foul by Williams sent the Bucks guard to the line with a chance to tie.
A struggling Brook Lopez, returning from the All-Star Game, found himself on the bench while Andray Blatche secured the minutes and the rebounds (12).
The Nets trailed by 14 points in the second half, but a 12-0 run bridging the third and fourth quarters put them in the driver's seat.
P.J. Carlesimo lauded his team's effort in coming back.
"We could have lost this one by 14 or 18 and said, 'Hey, it was a back to back. They just took it to us,' Carlesimo said." I think it's primarily because of the bench, but also because of we're starting to get a mentality to not be accepting of when things don't go right. We find a way to hang in there."
Two games that were losses earlier in the season turned into wins by Feb. 20. Avery Johnson coached his last game with the Nets against these same Bucks, a discouraging 108-93 loss on Dec. 26.
The Nets, winners of four straight, are 11 games over .500 since the rocky start and climbing fast in the standings. The Nets trail the Knicks by only one game in the Atlantic Division, although Brooklyn has played four extra games.
And the team currently one game out of second place in the Eastern Conference has the potential to improve itself by Thursday's NBA trade deadline.
Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Mikhail Prokhorov's money, and future draft picks are the likely commodities headed out of Brooklyn.
As a deal for Ben Gordon seemed to fizzle, the Nets reportedly have turned their interest to Josh Smith. The uber-athletic Smith is in the final year of his deal with the Atlanta Hawks and he wants a max contract in free agency.
Brooks rationalized his inclusion in most Nets' trade rumors.
"It's basketball, something I love to do," Brooks said. "I've been playing since I was five years old. I'm just very fortunate to be in this situation. Whatever situation I'm in."
The Nets retain three players with maximum deals: Williams, Lopez, and Johnson.
Other players potentially on the move include Paul Millsap, Carlos Boozer, Paul Pierce, J.J. Redick, and J.J. Hickson.