Nets Halfway Home: A 41-game analysis
A lot has changed since we took a look at the Nets at the quarter pole back in mid-December, most notably that Avery Johnson was fired on Dec. 27 and replaced with interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, who is 11-2 as the boss – but the more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same, too.
The Nets enter the second half already having eclipsed their win total from 2011-12 of 22, and they’ve won two in a row and nine of their last 10 in this 11-2 stretch under Carlesimo. The downswing of the season slope begins Wednesday night in Minnesota against the Timberwolves, and as they get set to begin the second half, here’s a look at (and some analysis of) a selection of the highs, the lows, the award winners, and the question marks from Brooklyn’s proverbial front nine.
Scoring: Brook Lopez (18.5 ppg)
Rebounds: Reggie Evans (8.9 rpg)
Assists: Deron Williams (7.8 apg)
Steals: Gerald Wallace (1.35 spg)
Blocks: Brook Lopez (2.12 bpg)
Field Goal Percentage: Brook Lopez (51.7 percent)*
Three-point Percentage: Joe Johnson (38.8 percent)*
*NOTE: To qualify for the NBA field goal or three-point percentage lead, a player must be on pace to make 300 field goals or 55 three-pointers. Only four Nets are on pace for the former and five for the latter, and while they are both numerically second on the team behind Tornike Shengelia, Lopez and Johnson are the top qualifiers.
Best win: Jan. 2 at Oklahoma City
The Thunder currently sport the best record in the NBA, making this an easy choice on multiple levels. But beyond the numbers, the Nets raced out to a big first-half lead and let it slip away in the third quarter – both common traits from many games this season – before turning on the jets and kicking it up a notch in the fourth quarter leading to a big margin of victory.
Worst Loss: Nov. 5 vs. Minnesota
At the quarter pole, we called this loss, in which the Nets blew a 22-point lead at home, one that could “sting all season and perhaps even prove costly in a playoff race.” Nearly four months and 15 more losses later, it is still one the Nets likely look back on with the biggest “what if?” frequency. Among only the losses between games 21-41, however, Brooklyn’s loss to Milwaukee on Dec. 26 is the easy winner as the worst, simply for being the straw that broke Avery Johnson’s coaching back.
MVP: Brook Lopez
Lopez was the first-quarter MVP as well, and despite Joe Johnson’s second-quarter surge and Deron Williams’ step up in play of late, it’s still the starting center who leads the team in scoring, blocks, and field-goal percentage, and it’s Lopez who is still a key focal point to the offense. He hasn’t missed a game since returning from a sprained foot, and the Nets are rolling once again.
Rookie of the Quarter: Mirza Teletovic
The Nets’ three rookies haven’t made much of an impact this year, but “MTV” has played and scored the most and also has a nice 10-point, four-rebound performance in his recent past, so he gets the nod here.
Newcomer of the Year: Joe Johnson
Last quarter, it was a tough call between Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche for this award…but since mid-December, Brooklyn’s offense has more often than not become the Joe Johnson Show, proving that maybe Avery Johnson was right in predicting that time frame for an awakening by the six-time All-Star. He’s now second on the team in scoring and assists, and has hit numerous big shots to put the Nets ahead in the last few weeks. And, as a look at the stat sheet will note, he and Andray Blatche are the only Brooklynites to have played in all 41 contests so far.
Biggest Surprise: Avery Johnson’s firing
We could have put the play of Keith Bogans, Kris Humphries’ loss of a starting role, or the rise and fall and re-rise of MarShon Brooks here, but even with the swoon that preceded it, Johnson’s dismissal still came as a shock to many (including Avery himself) who thought he’d get a full year. Sure, the Nets’ 11-2 record and improved play under P.J. Carlesimo lends credence to the move, but then again, it’s not very often that you see a team fire its head man more than a third of the way into a season and still be a strong playoff contender.
Most Bizarre Moment: “Sky Kirkland”
We have a feeling that referee Courtney Kirkland’s bizarre interruption of a Kris Humphries free throw will likely stay in this you’re probably one of the last.
Third Quarter Game(s) to Watch: The Dream Homestand
The Nets’ 61st and 62nd games come in the first week of March, but the measuring stick for the quarter comes long before then. Following this current road trip where they play three games in four days, the Nets return home for what could perhaps be a fan’s dream homestand, playing Orlando, Miami, Chicago and the Lakers in a nine-day span between Jan. 28. and Feb. 5. Brooklyn passed its second quarter litmus test with that win over Oklahoma City, and strong performances in a stretch that sees them play a team they’ve owned so far this year and three of the most talented and/or glamorous teams in the NBA could go a long way towards building confidence for the stretch run.
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES