Frank quickly making name for himself

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- If anyone can identify a Jeff Van Gundy clone from half a basketball court away, it would be Van Gundy's brother, figuring that it probably takes one to know one.

But Stan Van Gundy sees only one thing his older brother has in common with this supposed JVG Jr. from New Jersey.

"They both got promoted to good teams in the middle of the year," said Stan of Jeff and his alleged twin, Nets interim head coach Lawrence Frank. "That's the similarity.

"This has been a team that's been to the Finals two years in a row, so it's obviously been a good situation to come into."

Since Frank was promoted from top assistant to head coach (like both Van Gundys) to replace the fired Byron Scott on Jan. 26, the comparisons to Jeff, the former Knicks coach and current Rockets coach, haven't ceased. The parallel -- not to mention Frank's full head of red hair, unlike Jeff's balding dome -- isn't going away anytime soon. Not with the way the tireless, 33-year-old Frank has resuscitated a Nets team to finally take control of a depleted Atlantic Division.

In Frank's first five games -- all double-digit victories -- the Nets performed like the Nets of the past two Eastern Conference championship seasons, most notably on defense, cashing in turnovers for fast-break buckets. Frank restored faith in the bench, too. Ordered by Scott to stand in the corner for their mistakes, Lucious Harris, Rodney Rogers, Aaron Williams and rookie Zoran Planinic are getting consistent minutes again and making an impact in more ways than just scoring.

In less than two weeks, the Nets' body language and entire outlook has been altered by a hoopsaholic who never made an organized team past grade school, but made up for it by soaking up knowledge from a coaching legend, and whose players have to bend an ear all the way down to the 5-foot-8 coach to hear his sideline instructions. It all sounds so ... Jeff Van Gundy.

"I don't think they (the Nets) ever went away. It's the same roster they've had all the time," Stan Van Gundy said. "I think you see it with the Lakers. ... I think you get bored and it takes them until playoff time sometimes to really get it together and get going. I don't think there's anything strange about that.

"I don't think the Nets were ever in a panic situation in terms of the way they were playing. Maybe they felt they were. But on the outside, you never sat there and felt like, 'Oh, New Jersey's awful. They're out of it.' "

The Heat barely recognized the Nets team hustling all over the floor in Wednesday's 99-88 loss in the Meadowlands. Just 12 days before, Miami drubbed New Jersey by 21 points in South Florida in a defeat that sealed Scott's fate.

"Their energy was kind of down. We were able to run them and kind of just got whatever we wanted out of our offense, and defensively," Miami's Caron Butler recalled. "(This time), they were really working their offense. Their intensity was much higher."

It's not so much Frank's Xs and Os that have turned around the Nets. It's the little things he's doing to build the players' trust in the coaching staff.

It's the phone calls to the other Eastern Conference coaches to campaign for and cinch the All-Star reserve spots for Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin. It's the true Jeff Van Gundy maneuver of stepping onto the court to grab Miami's Malik Allen after Allen flagrant-fouled Kidd into the basket stanchion. And it's the messy office desk, always the sign of a genius but a sure indicator that Frank won't ever be underprepared for a game -- something Scott was accused of at times during his three-plus seasons in Jersey.

So is Lawrence Frank the next Jeff Van Gundy? For now, only in stature.

Check back after the Finals, though.

"I know Lawrence a little bit. Obviously, I know my brother very well," Stan Van Gundy said. "What I do know is that they are two totally different people."

With the same hunger for winning basketball games.

Joe Lago is the NBA editor at ESPN.com.