Brooklyn Nets: They Won't Back Down

Updated: March 28, 2014



Things feel different this time around, don’t they?

Even though they have dropped consecutive games for the first time since the end of January, you have to like where this Brooklyn Nets team is headed.

Considering last year’s team will probably finish with a better regular season record on paper, this year’s squad actually looks like a formidable opponent for any team in the Eastern Conference. With great depth and their new found identity, the Nets could do some damage in the upcoming NBA Playoffs. The dark horse to come out of the East may in fact be the team that wears black. They have become the ones that no one will want to be matched up with for a seven-game series, especially when none of those games will be on consecutive nights.

Not too long ago, pundits in the sports media criticized the firing of PJ Carlesimo after guiding them to a 49-33 record and the fourth seed in the conference. On the surface the season appeared to be a “success” with a playoff berth and a seven game series with the Chicago Bulls, but in reality it felt like a colossal let down. After all, the Nets owned the home court advantage and the Bulls were playing severely shorthanded.

Management felt a change was needed and aside from the coaching change to Jason Kidd, the blockbuster deal was orchestrated with the Boston Celtics to fill the remaining holes. This deal not only addressed certain voids like interior defense and frontcourt scoring, but also the intangibles that the Nets sorely lacked such as toughness and leadership.

If you recall, the Bulls publically stated that they wanted to face the Nets in the opening round of the playoffs as they referred to them as “gutless and heartless”. The acquisitions of future Hall of Famers and former NBA champions were in theory going to change the culture of a soft team that seemed to get by on talent alone. Adding Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Jason Terry was the NBA equivalency of a heart transplant.

As we already know, this season began in disappointing fashion. Decimated by injuries and a noncompetitive spirit triggered a 10-21 start. The trade appeared to be one of the biggest busts in league history.  The future of the Nets, both in the short and long term, appeared hopeless. The 2013-2014 Brooklyn Nets were following in the footsteps of the 1992 New York Mets – “The Worst Team Money Can Buy”.

Not exactly the image of a confident group.

Not exactly the image of a confident group.

Clearly the Nets have turned their season around but some may say that they did this last year when Deron Williams’ post All-Star break resurgence/Rope-a-Dope and a change in the calendar year saw them finish 33-18. This season they are currently 27-11 since New Year’s Day.

Even with the epic and embarrassing collapse against the Pelicans the other night, there is still an aura of confidence surrounding this team. Was it disappointing to watch them blow a 22-point second half lead and waste a golden opportunity to inch closer to the Raptors and Bulls in the standings? Yes!

To lose a game like that was inexcusable; however it was the second game of a back-to-back in which they played an overtime thriller the previous night. To me, the big lead led to poor shot selection/offensive execution, and once the lead started to slip away, the tired legs of the Nets’ players couldn’t reclaim the lost momentum.   How else can you explain jump shots not falling and getting beaten defensively possession after possession?  Having a limited roster due to injuries (Garnett, Andrei Kirilenko, and Marcus Thornton for the second half) didn’t help the situation either.

If you’ve noticed the trend of 2014, it’s that these Nets may fall down, but they are quick to get back up off the mat. Remember the 44-point humiliating loss in Portland? If so, then you should easily remember how they bounced back the following night in Denver and dominated the Nuggets.

Need more proof? Well, there was that inexplicable loss in Boston in early March, but how did the Nets respond to that blunder? Oh yeah, just a three game winning streak highlighted by a blowout win over Sacramento, a come from behind victory against the Raptors, and of course, the proudest moment of the season thus far- winning in Miami while the Heat were at full strength and the Nets were missing Garnett and Kirilenko.

Yes there was that gut-wrenching loss against the Wizards, but as the Nets have shown, they took that punch and answered back in convincing fashion with easy wins against Phoenix and Boston as well as gritty performances against Charlotte and Dallas. A year ago and earlier this season, these types of losses would have caused a downward spiral. Now these defeats only fuel their anger which results in impressive bounce back performances.

Obviously this team is far from perfect and disappointments still resurface, although less frequently; however there’s no denying that these Nets have developed a thicker skin. Heads are no longer hanging and the shoulders aren’t slumped when things aren’t going their way during the course of a game. There is no more feeling sorry for themselves. Third quarter doldrums have become an anomaly. A “next man up” mentality has been instilled within to combat the losses of several key players. Even if they are shorthanded, a competitive spirit helps them rise to the challenge. Case in point: the past two wins against Miami.

A swagger and passion Net fans aren't used to seeing.

A swagger and passion Net fans aren’t used to seeing.

When big leads are squandered, the Nets counter with a run of their own. Early double digit deficits rarely balloon out of control. The old Nets were the boxer with a glass jaw who preferred not to get into a brawl with a rugged opponent. These Nets are now willing to roll up their sleeves and get dirty against the likes of Chicago and Memphis.

It’s funny how things can change in a year. The same team who Chicago wanted a year ago in the playoffs is now the one who they want to avoid. It speaks volumes when the team who has bullied you wants no part of you anymore. I guess that’s the result of talent finally being calibrated with confidence and heart.

To evaluate the Nets by their overall record this season is foolish, since it doesn’t take into account how well they have played for a substantial period. With a fraction of the regular season remaining, it is highly unlikely that the Nets will top last year’s win total. It is also possible that they may not even have home court advantage in the first round, but even if that’s the case, Brooklyn has to feel confident with where they are heading as a unit. This team is a resilient bunch that doesn’t dwell in the past and appears to fear no one.

For a team that doesn’t rebound well, they have learned how to rebound well from failure.