After acquiring Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett – and already having Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez – the Brooklyn Nets were supposed to be one of the best teams in the league this year. They were considered by many a legitimate threat to surpass the Pacers and Heat and reach the NBA Finals.
Instead, it took time to build chemistry, Lopez got hurt, and the Nets started 3-10, 9-19 and 10-21.
And then they got it together. The Nets (24-27) are 14-6 since New Year’s.
“They made a major adjustment in their lineup,” Nets radio analyst Tim Capstraw explained on The Morning Show. “They (decided) to play a little small ball.”
Indeed, the Nets inserted Shaun Livingston into the lineup and moved Williams to shooting guard, Johnson to small forward, Pierce to power forward and Garnett to center – and they got a lot better.
Brooklyn opened 2014 with a 95-93 win at Oklahoma City, a game in which Williams scored a game-high 29 points.
“That kind of jumpstarted them,” Capstraw said. “They’re playing much better defensively, they got more players on the floor that can handle the ball, and they’re just kind of figuring it out. I think Jason Kidd’s done a very good job of adjusting on the fly and trying to figure out this season. Still a lot of work to do, (but) this team has very good depth.”
It helps that Andrei Kirilenko is healthy again and that Andray Blatche is leading the second unit.
Once bottom-feeders in the Eastern Conference, the Nets (24-27) have risen to seventh in the playoff standings. Still, they’ll need to continue their hot play to avoid a first-round series with Indiana or Miami, and they open the second half of the season with a pivotal – yet manageable – six-game road trip.
Four of the six teams have sub-.500 records.
“It’s a road trip, but it’s not a crusher road trip,” Capstraw said. “It’s one of those where you could get it together and get on a run.”
One would expect that from a veteran team like Brooklyn, especially when it’s going against the Jazz, Lakers, Nuggets and Bucks.
“I think everybody can see . . . the light at the end of the tunnel, that this season is moving along,” Capstraw said. “Now’s our time to step up. This road trip could help make a difference. They’re winnable games – and if you’re prepared and you’re ready, that could make a difference (for a team that still needs to improve) to be competitive with Indiana and Miami.”
Capstraw said it’s important for Williams and Johnson to take the lead – which would allow Pierce, 36, and Garnett, 37, to blend in (as opposed to having to play at an elite level every night) – and they need to do it soon. With so many aging veterans, Brooklyn is clearly in win-now mode.
“It’s not a great window,” Capstraw said. “That’s for sure.”
Capstraw also discussed the team across town, the Knicks (20-32) – not to mention the claim that Carmelo Anthony is the most overrated superstar in the NBA.
“I think Knicks fans should cut him a whole lot of slack because he has played really hard, really well, and it isn’t his problem this team is poor right now,” Captsraw said. “I do not agree that he’s overrated. I don’t think he has a support system with him.”
But does Anthony make his teammates better?
“I think if he had players around him that were more suited to his liking, (yes he would),” Capstraw said. “When you have superstars, I think you have to surround them with shooting. I don’t think the Knicks have an awful lot of shooting, (and) I don’t think they have great point guard play.
“I think it’s fair to say that there are times he doesn’t make guys better, but I don’t know how much better you can make some of the guys right now on their roster.”