There was a time in December where every night at the Barclays Center turned into an adventure. Regardless of the opponent or the score, the outcome remained in doubt.
They blew a 13-point halftime lead to the Utah Jazz and suffered consecutive blowout losses to the Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks on Dec. 25 and Dec. 26, respectively.
The talent simply did not match the results.
The Nets continued to roll under P.J. Carlesimo, moving to 7-1 under the interim head coach, courtesy of a 99-79 romp over the Phoenix Suns. The Nets are a perfect 5-0 in 2013 and playing the caliber of basketball Mikhail Prokhorov and Billy King imagined when they finalized the roster during the offseason.
For the first time in franchise history, the Nets have won three consecutive games by a margin of 20-plus points.
“I think we went through some bumps and some rough patches and that taught us,” Deron Williams said. “We’re gelling a little more now, we’re more comfortable playing with each other now, and it translates.”
Brooklyn is no longer struggling to keep its head above water, either. With Carlesimo calling the shots, the Nets have snuck back into relevancy. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are playing free and easy while Brook Lopez makes his case for the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
The Nets are surging in the Eastern Conference standings, just three games behind the Miami Heat for first in the standings. In the Atlantic Division, Brooklyn pulled to within two games of the formerly red-hot New York Knicks, who fell to the Chicago Bulls Friday night in Madison Square Garden.
“We know we’ve got some momentum right now,” said Joe Johnson, who battled the flu to score a team-high 19 points. “We have been playing some pretty good basketball of late but we’ve still got a long way to go.”
The Nets arrived there by disposing of the teams they should. Their record against teams under .500 is a staggering 14-0, but their style has been refreshing in the new year.
No double overtimes necessary to take down the Detroit Pistons under this Nets team.
“It feels good to get back to a point to where everybody’s happy,” Johnson said.
The Suns entered Friday night’s tilt a rocky 12-25, good for next to last place in the Western Conference. Starting center Marcin Gortat even referred to the team as a “sinking boat.”
Not only should the Nets beat teams like the Suns, they should cruise past them. An uptempo offense has certainly done the trick.
“Wins are wins, and we’re definitely happy with those wins,” Williams said. “But... a lot of those wins we should take care of.”
After a shaky first half in which the Nets trailed, 53-46, they dominated in the second half and made the Suns look like a 12-25 team. Brooklyn limited Phoenix to 9-of-38 shooting and 26 points in the final 24 minutes.
These second halves never materialized under Avery Johnson. And even though the players cannot necessarily explain the transformation, they will certainly embrace it.
“I have no idea (why we’ve been better since the coaching change,” Johnson said. “We’ve kind of just bought into what P.J. wants us to do at both ends of the floor. We’re trying to get back to being defensive-minded, being the team that we were when the season first started and guys have been playing well.
“Tough times never last, tough people do,” Johnson added.