NBA Eastern Conference Blog: A Brooklyn Revival

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By MATT McCORMACK
STAFF WRITER

After beginning the season with incredibly lofty expectations, the Brooklyn Nets immediately failed to play up to this standard.  A horrific 10-21 start almost doomed their season before it was even halfway over.  During this period, everything that could go wrong did.  Injuries amounted at a seemingly exponential rate: Brook Lopez, arguably the Nets’ best player, was forced to undergo season-ending surgery on his right foot.  Deron Williams has been in and out of the lineup the entire year, and cannot seem to get a steady rhythm going because of his nagging injuries. At their old age, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are walking time bombs, and the Nets just have to hope they can remain healthy in an injury-riddled year.  Indeed, things looked very bleak for Brooklyn in late 2013.  However, ever since the calendar turned to 2014, the prospects for the Nets’ season have turned around in the blink of an eye.

It all started on a cold, ordinary night in Oklahoma City on Jan. 2.  The first three quarters featured an all too familiar storyline for Brooklyn, as it found itself down by 16 points late in the third.  Going into the game, the Nets had lost all 19 of their games in which they trailed going into the fourth quarter.  However, they uncharacteristically stormed back to tie the game in the final seconds.  Then, Joe Johnson hit a cold-blooded jumper at the buzzer to propel Brooklyn to a huge road victory against the league’s top team.  Ever since that inspiring win on Jan. 2 in Oklahoma City, the Nets have turned it around, winning 12 of 17 games in the new year, including impressive wins against the Warriors, Mavericks and Heat.  The Nets’ recent success begs the question: how far can their resurgent play take them in the Eastern Conference?

As of Feb. 8, the Nets are 22-26.  While this record would place them in the bottom half of the Western Conference, the Nets fortunately reside in the comfortable East where they currently hold the seventh seed. They are only three games behind the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors. It would not be far-fetched to say that the Nets could reach the third seed by the end of the year.  None of the teams ahead of them are very imposing.  Chicago is in a rebuilding mode without Rose and Deng, so Brooklyn can easily pass them if they continue to play well. Atlanta is managing to quietly tread water without its star forward Al Horford, but I can see them dropping off due to a lack of firepower.

The toughest team for Brooklyn to overcome may be the Raptors, who have been led by one of the league’s most surprising players, Kyle Lowry. However, like the other teams in front of Brooklyn, it is just tough to see the Raptors staying ahead of the Nets.  I believe that the Raptors have reached their peak, while Brooklyn has yet to reach its.  Even though the loss of Brook Lopez is debilitating, the Nets still have a very good team when healthy.  If Deron Williams can stay in the lineup, he is a catalyst that can make everyone else on the floor better.

My prediction for Brooklyn to finish third is more indicative of the lack of competition in the East than my confidence in the Nets.  However, if Brooklyn can stay healthy, there is no reason why it can’t make it to the second round of the playoffs with relative ease.  The challenge will come when they are forced to play either Miami or Indiana in the second round.  It would take nothing short of a miracle for Brooklyn to beat either of those teams in a seven game series.  Since the winter Olympics have started, however, I am reminded that sports miracles have occurred before. Maybe Brooklyn can perform one of their own.