In a season of streaks, Nets must learn from history

Now 11-2 under Carlesimo, Brooklyn must avoid a second-stanza swoon
01/22/2013 2:09 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

The Nets are 11-2 under P.J. Carlesimo, but also started 11-4 under Avery Johnson.(AP)
As the old cliché goes, those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

In 2013 terms, the world is likely about to find out over the next 12 games leading up to the NBA All-Star festivities whether or not the Brooklyn Nets get an A-plus or an F in that subject – and the best “cheat sheet” they can use in that journey is a mantra from their former teacher.

As former Nets coach Avery Johnson was fond of saying, the NBA season is one of cycles…and the Nets perhaps personify that thought more than any other team. On the surface, yes, the Nets look like legitimate threats; sitting at 25-16 at the halfway point, Brooklyn is just a game out of first place in the Atlantic Division and was, after Monday’s win against the Knicks, in position to be the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

It’s a stark contrast to the lockout-shortened 2011-12 NBA season, in which the Nets won 22 of 66 games total. That history is ancient, especially since it happened in New Jersey and not in the Brooklyn era – but what has happened over the first 41 games is not, and reveals a trap the Nets must avoid falling into over the next three weeks to avoid falling back into the realm of possible “pretender.”

That is where Avery’s advice comes in, because in a season of streaks, history says the Nets may be due for one.

It seems like years ago that the Nets went 11-4 in November, helping Johnson win NBA Coach of the Month honors and getting off to a fast 7-1 start at Barclays Center that included wins over the division-leading Knicks, Clippers (who lead the Pacific and, at 32-10 through Monday, were within a half-game of the NBA’s best record) and ever-tough Celtics.

But then things went sour, and in a hurry. The Nets went 3-10 over their next 13, and while its true that their schedule saw them play 10 of those 13 games against teams currently still above .500, they won exactly zero of those. The ship bottomed out on Dec. 26, when the Bucks routed the Nets in Milwaukee just a day after Boston had bested Brooklyn at Barclays in a Christmas Day matinee.

The next day, the Nets sat at 14-14, their first taste of exactly average since the final buzzer in Orlando on Nov. 11 put them at 3-2; Johnson was fired, assistant P.J. Carlesimo was put in charge as the interim head coach, and the most common answer to the question of “Where Brooklyn At?” was “floundering.”

Things, of course, got much brighter immediately, and four weeks after what seemed like rock bottom, the Nets are back up to nine over .500 thanks to an 11-2 record under Carlesimo. Sure, they’ve played some bottom feeders, but outside of road losses against tough teams in San Antonio and Atlanta, they’ve run the table – and, in the process, in addition to wins over the Knicks, Hawks, and Pacers teams they’re battling against in the playoff race, the Nets got their signature win of the season: a Jan. 2 triumph in Oklahoma City over a Thunder team that is currently the NBA’s best (and had beaten the Nets in Brooklyn at the beginning of that initial 3-10 swoon).

It was in that second Thunder game where it appeared the Nets may first be learning from history; they got off to a strong start as they have in many games this season, and then, as has also been their wont, lost their way in the third quarter…but instead of falling apart in the fourth, the Nets turned it back on and ended up winning by 17.

So now, with half the season gone and 12 games to go until All-Star Weekend bisects the schedule, the Nets have another chance to prove their scholarship in that area. After going from hot to cold to hot in their first three runs of 13-15 games, they’re “due” for a downturn again, and must undertake a rough slate that has them play back-to-back nights at Memphis and Houston, face Miami, Chicago, and the Lakers in a seven day span, and then finish off with a San Antonio/at Indiana/Denver triad that sees them play thrice in four days before the break.

Seven of the next 12 are against teams above .500, and two more are against an always-unpredictable Lakers team and a Minnesota squad that came back from a 22-point deficit against the Nets in the season’s second game, so anything can happen.

How will the Nets respond? Should they fall into a funk and lose eight, nine, or more of those games – going something like 4-8 or 3-9 in the process – they’ll remain above .500 but fall down the ladder a few rungs, raise questions about their play and their habits, and dredge up perhaps painful memories with people asking whether they really are the “same old, same old” Nets under Carlesimo that they were under Johnson.

However, should they win the majority of those games, or even hover around a .500 record of 6-6, they’ll likely break that stigma, and in the latter case, it will also likely mean they’re playing solid basketball even if every break doesn’t go their way.

Then, of course, they have 29 games after the break to worry about, but as Avery Johnson also was fond of saying, the Nets are a “work in progress, and (they will) get there,” and they’ll at least being a lot closer to making the answer to “Where Brooklyn At?” become “in the playoffs.”

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