The Brooklyn Nets have turned into the hottest team in the Eastern Conference and are now in position to claim the top spot in the Atlantic Division. With a record of 22-15, and riding a current six-game winning streak, the Nets are just behind the Knicks, who are first in the division at 24-13.
Sunday night Brooklyn put an end to Indiana’s four-game winning streak by defeating the Pacers 97-86 in Brooklyn, improving to an 8-1 record under interim Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo. The win over the Pacers gives a good indication of where this Brooklyn team is at right now. We know that they have won six games in a row, but beating Indiana showed a little bit more about the will and character of this team.
Playing without Gerald Wallace, who was out with bruised ribs, a banged up Deron Williams fought through a thigh contusion, and the Nets were able to overcome a 12-point second half deficit. Due in large part to Brooklyn’s smothering defense, the Nets outscored the Pacers 28-11 in the fourth quarter as they went on to win the game.
Indiana is third in the eastern conference, but after their loss on Sunday, they are only a half-game ahead of the Nets in the standings. Other than beating the Oklahoma City Thunder quite handedly nearly two weeks ago, this was the most impressive win for the Nets under Carlesimo.
David West looked like his former self, playing like his all-star days back in New Orleans with Chris Paul, scoring with ease on his way to 23 points on 10-15 shooting after the first three quarters. In the final period however, Brooklyn tightened their defense and held West to 1-4 shooting from the field, and all but eliminated his effectiveness in the fourth.
By putting the clamps down on West, Brooklyn was able to remove the biggest threat to their defense in what was a slow-paced, grind-it-out kind of game. West got the better of the Nets during the opening 36 minutes, but the final 12 were controlled by Brooklyn. Playing with a three-guard lineup down the stretch consisting of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and C.J. Watson, the Nets were able to execute exactly how they wanted, and neededto close the game.
Banging against the seven-foot, two-inch Pacers center Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez struggled to get his offense going for most of the game. But by playing big when it mattered most, Lopez scored 10 of his 15 points in the final period.
Leading the Nets was Deron Williams, who has been stepping his game up as of late for his new coach. Williams finished with 22 points and nine assists. Joe Johnson also continues to play well as he scored 20 points, five rebounds, and connected on three of six three-point attempts. He is now shooting 18-37 from downtown during the month of January, something the Nets greatly benefit from.
Perhaps the coaching change to P.J. Carlesimo was exactly what this Brooklyn team needed. They have found a temporary harmony to their game, playing in rhythm, and are winning games.
"We have just bought into what P.J. wants us to do on both ends of the floor," said Joe Johnson after the game. "We are trying to get back to being defensive-minded and being the team we were when the season first started."
Johnson expressed further confidence about his interim coach as he told New York Daily News, “He’s our guy right now. I have 100% faith in him. I don’t look at him as, ‘He’s just going to be here for a little while.’ I’m figuring he’s the coach.”
Clearly the Nets are at a good place right now and are putting the rough month of December behind them. Looking forward, they definitely have a shot at extending their win streak. They are now fourth in the eastern conference and are looking to climb even higher.
Brooklyn will face Toronto Tuesday night, before hopping on a plane to Atlanta for a Joe Johnson homecoming Wednesday, in what will be his first game back since being traded in the offseason. They will play Atlanta a second time on Friday and then prepare to face the Knicks for a fourth and final time this regular season. After winning the opening battle for New York supremacy, Brooklyn has lost two in a row to the Knicks.
The Nets’six-game winning streak is the longest in nearly seven years, and it could certainly go a little further. If they can take care of business against the Raptors and Hawks, Brooklyn will look to win their tenth in a row against New York next Monday on NBA TV.