It all started off so badly. But the Brooklyn Nets turned their season around in January and now are in the playoff hunt.
The Nets have 31 games remaining coming out of the All-Star break to beat out Toronto for the Atlantic Division and a possible third or fourth seed. Making the playoffs is no given for an aging team that lacks energy, athletic legs and has dealt with injuries all season. But they have the experience, pedigree and depth to be a playoff team.
Here’s a look back at the Nets before the All-Star break and what lies ahead of them:
What went right: 2014. As soon as the New Year came, the Nets became a new team. They went 10-3 in January as Jason Kidd went with a smaller lineup. The Nets grew more comfortable with their roles and played better defensively and more cohesively on offense. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce played better and led the team at center and power forward. Role players stepped up like Shaun Livingston, who continues his amazing comeback. And the Nets got healthier and became a tight-knit team.
Credit the players and coaching staff from keeping the team from quitting. They have cooled off a bit in February, though, which is something to keep an eye on.
What went wrong: 2013. The Nets looked like an all-time disappointment in November and December. Kidd looked like a rookie head coach. The Nets didn’t play any defense and they showed even less fight when adversity hit, often in third quarters. They had little chemistry and were rocked by injuries. They lost Brook Lopez for the season. Deron Williams, Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko, Jason Terry and others missed time. Nets also have a tough time dealing with bigger and more athletic teams.
Coaching: Kidd had his growing pains. He had to learn little things like when to stand up and pace the sideline more and earned a hefty fine for purposely spilling his soda on the court to draw up a play without any timeouts.
After a rough first couple of months, Kidd decided to do things his way. He wasn’t afraid to make tough decisions like demoting Lawrence Frank and altering the team’s defense. He figured out a rotation, isn’t afraid to play role players over starters and most important, kept the team from fracturing and didn’t lose his players when things were bad.
MVP at the break: Joe Johnson is the All-Star and make no mistake, without his offense, the Nets wouldn’t have gotten hot in January. But Garnett is the glue. You can see how the Nets’ defense fades when KG isn’t on the floor. And KG made the vow to turn things around in 2014 and his teammates followed.
Most disappointing at the break: D-Will. He’s been plagued by injuries and just doesn’t look comfortable at all. He’s been frustrated with all the ankle injuries and a bruised knee and he admits his confidence has taken a hit. He’s been in and out of the lineup and hasn’t lived up to expectations yet. But he can still turn it around and frankly the Nets won’t go far if that doesn’t happen by playoff time.
Best win so far: The 104-95 double OT win at home against Miami on Jan. 10. The Nets stared down LeBron and outlasted him, even seeing King James foul out.
Worst loss so far: The Knicks embarrassed them on their home floor in early December. And there was the Christmas Day rout by Chicago that led to Kidd calling his players out in the locker room and Garnett storming into the showers upset with the team’s lack of fight. But the 113-92 New Year’s Eve no-show in San Antonio ended with some players leaving the game prematurely thinking the game was over and remaining in the locker room despite the coaches needing players to return to the court to finish out the final seconds.
Best moment so far: Winning in Oklahoma City on Jan. 2. That started the turnaround. That's when they began to believe in what they can do. Who knows what would have happened if they had lost that game.
Worst moment so far: Losing Lopez for the season in a 121-120 overtime loss in Philadelphia on Dec. 20.
Potential moves: The Nets will certainly see what they can do but the odds are against a deal before the Feb. 20 deadline. They can certainly use another young athletic role player who can provide some of the following: energy, offense, defense, rebounding and shot-blocking.
The road ahead: The Nets will be put to the test right out of the All-Star break. They play six straight on the road, including a five-game West Coast swing against the Jazz, Warriors, Lakers, Blazers and Nuggets. They have 17 road games remaining and eight back-to-backs left, four of which come in April which could be bad for an older team.
Key unsung player post break: Livingston. If he can continue the way he played in January and February, the Nets can continue to wait for D-Will to rediscover his rhythm and get healthier.
Nets make the playoffs if: If they remain healthy, D-Will gets healthier and more confident and plays like a max player. Garnett and Pierce have to continue to give meaningful minutes, Johnson has to provide the offense and role players all have to contribute and supply energy.
Nets miss the playoffs if: If they suffer any more serious injuries, play increasingly more inconsistent basketball like they have in February the rest of the way or look even older than they did in November and December.
Prediction: Nets will make the playoffs. They trail Toronto by 3.5 games and can catch the Raptors for the division title if Williams finds his All-Star game. But with four sets of back-to-backs in April and the possibility of having to rest Garnett from time to time, the Nets might end up with the fifth or sixth seed.