Three reasons for optimism in Brooklyn

Here are three reasons to be optimistic about the Brooklyn Nets heading into the second half:

1. They are playing much better: The Nets (24-27) have turned their season around in 2014 (14-6), going to a smaller lineup (Shaun Livingston in the backcourt, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in the frontcourt) and winning on the defensive end (sixth in efficiency since Jan. 1). Nets coach Jason Kidd's team has discovered an identity and appears to be a confident group at this point. Garnett (57.8 percent shooting since Jan. 1) and Pierce (14.7 points per game, 38.3 percent 3-point shooting since Jan. 1), who struggled mightily after being traded to Brooklyn from Boston, have played really well since moving to center and power forward. Now, if the team can just stay healthy ...

2. They play in the Eastern Conference: The Nets have endured an up-and-down season, but they still have a pretty good shot at earning the No. 3 seed in the East come playoff time. They are currently 3 1/2 games behind the Toronto Raptors (28-24) for first place in the Atlantic Division and an automatic top-four seed. That’s what happens when you play in one of the worst conferences in recent memory. Sure, Miami and Indiana are legitimate championship contenders, but after that, the East is pretty much wide open. Someone has to come in third. Why can’t it be the Nets?

3. They are playoff/battled-tested: The reason many believe the Nets could be the greatest threat to the Heat and Pacers is because they are a slow, plodding team full of veterans who have years of postseason experience under their belts -- especially Pierce (136 games), Garnett (131) and Johnson (69). The Nets have also started to develop a pretty strong home-court advantage (11-2 in their past 13 games at Barclays Center), which bodes well.