The Brooklyn Nets continued their red-hot start to the month of January on Tuesday night with a 101-90 win over the visiting Orlando Magic, and are now an NBA-best 8-1 in 2014 despite spending the first two months of the regular season among the league’s most notable disappointments.
Now 18-22 overall and in second place in a weak Atlantic Division, Andray Blatche’s 18 points led a balanced attack that featured four players finishing in double figures for Brooklyn who avenged a 107-86 November-loss in Orlando and seem to have finally found their rhythm.
After starting 5-12, first-year head coach Jason Kidd and the Nets began December as arguably the NBA’s biggest disappointments and did little in the following 30 days to indicate that things were going to get any better in the near future.
Considering that Brook Lopez was lost for the remainder of the season after injuring his foot, veteran Deron Williams’ offensive production was, and still is at a career-low partially due to issues with his ankles, and Kevin Garnett is nowhere near what he was on either end of the court, there wasn’t much to be positive about.
But beginning with 95-93 win over Kevin Durant and the mighty Thunder in Oklahoma City on January 2nd, Brooklyn has cruised to victories over five teams currently positioned to reach the postseason while climbing into the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
While the wins have helped to bring Brooklyn back into the playoff discussion, questions regarding the long-term sustainability of the Nets’ new-found chemistry are begging to be answered.
At the moment, Williams has unselfishly sacrificed his starting role mainly because during his recent five-game absence, Brooklyn found success using Shaun Livingston as the starting point guard, a move that would upset most veterans.
With Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce likely at their offensive peak and the decrease in production seen from Williams however, Brooklyn’s fate may very well be sealed by the collective performances of Garnett, Blatche, and to some extent, sharp-shooting important Mirza Teletovic.
Currently in his 18th year as a pro, Garnett averaged 18.8 PPG and 10.4 RPG during stops in Minnesota and Boston while simultaneously helping to redefine the power forward position, but the “Big Ticket” hasn’t registered 20 PPG and 10 RPG for an entire season since his final year with the Timberwolves in 2006-07.
In his final year with the Celtics, Garnett averaged 14.8 PPG and 7.8 RPG while providing Boston with the level of offensive consistency that Brooklyn hoped to get when they acquired the veteran big man and are in desperate need of if they hope to make a playoff run of any consequence
Often wildly inconsistent, Blatche has shown flashes of ability during the absence of Lopez on his way to averaging 11.9 PPG and 6.1 RPG, but Brooklyn needs the former second-round draft pick to continue posting the type of numbers he has during wins over Atlanta (20pts), New York (19pts), and Orlando (18pts) in order to compete with teams like Miami and Indiana.
Without the versatility of big men like Blatche, Garnett, and Teletovic, teams such as Indiana with Roy Hibbert, David West, and Luis Scola will not only devour the Nets on the boards, they’ll be able to focus their defensive attention on Brooklyn’s lead offensive weapon without much hesitation.
In a division currently led by the Toronto Raptors (20-20), opportunities to mount a takeover are likely to be plentiful for Brooklyn who’s entering a crucial point in their schedule that could easily seal the fate of their 2013-14 season.
Beginning on Friday, January 24th when the Nets are scheduled to host the Dallas Mavericks, Brooklyn will play seven of their next 10 games at the Barclay’s Center before starting a seven-game road trip in Chicago on February 13th.
With six of those 10 games against teams currently positioned to reach the playoffs, Brooklyn will undoubtedly be tested during their upcoming homestand.
But for now, Brooklyn’s impressive start to the new year is only that, a start, and the hurdles facing this veteran team may just be too much to overcome without Brook Lopez patrolling the paint.