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Is it 'deja vu all over again' in Brooklyn?

Nets' Wednesday loss to Heat brings many eerie parallels
01/31/2013 1:10 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

P.J. Carlesimo called the Nets a 'Jekyll & Hyde' team before Wednesday's game.(AP)
If you had to sum up the Brooklyn Nets’ season in one song lyric, the best one might perhaps be from The Who, who urged listeners to “meet the new boss…same as the old boss.”

That’s not to say that the styles of deposed head coach Avery Johnson and interim boss P.J. Carlesimo are exactly alike, but on paper, their results pretty much are.

To wit: Under Johnson, the Nets opened the season 11-4 overall and 7-1 at home, earning Avery NBA Coach of the Month honors for October/November and bringing a lot of talk about Brooklyn being legit. However, the team then fell swiftly, losing five in a row to open December and falling to 14-14, a swoon that cost Johnson his job on Dec. 27, barely a third of the way into the schedule.

P.J. Carlesimo was given the gig on an interim basis that day, and in his first five weeks at the helm, the Nets have looked almost exactly like they did in the first five weeks of the season; after a 2-1 December start under Carlesimo, the Nets finished January with an 11-4 overall record (one that ties the best January mark in franchise history) and a 6-1 mark at Barclays Center – numbers that make Carlesimo a frontrunner for January Coach of the Month honors.

The big question, one that no one can seemingly find a straight answer to, is: How has this all happened? Prior to Wednesday’s game, Miami’s LeBron James chipped in his theory, intimating that the team quit on Johnson and saying:

“They’re not doing anything different; they’re playing with I would say more passion. They’re playing more together and like they want to play for the coach. It sucks that Avery had to take the hit at them not wanting to play at a high level but that’s what it looks like to me. They just picked it up in intensity level and you can tell they like to play for P.J.”

Carlesimo rebutted James’ comments in his pre-game press conference Wednesday night, calling his group a “Jekyll and Hyde” team, citing pacing and confidence as the biggest factors for the Nets’ resurgence under his watch, and reminding everyone that “he team we had in November is the team we had in December, and the team we had in January.”

The truth is, of course, that the entire team has been mostly healthy over the last month, as opposed to the December squad that lost Brook Lopez for the first six games and both Gerald Wallace and Deron Williams for one full game and most of another, so that has helped the team gel. However, harkening back to that November/December flip, there are two more somewhat eerie coincidences that may foreshadow a dark time for the Nets.

The first is schedule timing, specifically the fact that it was Brooklyn’s 30-point loss to Miami on Dec. 1 that began the swoon that eventually led to Johnson’s dismissal. The other, however, is that owner Mikhail Prokhorov is in Brooklyn to see the team and meet with GM Billy King this week – and the last time he was with the team was Christmas week, when the Nets had back-to-back ugly losses against Boston and Milwaukee, the latter of which cost Johnson his job 18 hours later.

Carlesimo himself was asked about Prokhorov’s presence before Wednesday’s game, saying that the owner had made him feel comfortable since the day he took over and joking that he didn’t think the reason for Prokhorov’s visit was the owner “sitting in Moscow thinking ‘I have to go see P.J.’”

However, all jokes aside, all of the numbers, figures, and factoids about January matching up to those of November and early December is at best a very bizarre coincidence and at worst a premonition of a tough February, one that could be disastrous if one other stat holds up.

That stat is that the Nets are a perfect 17-0 against teams below .500, but only 10-19 against winning teams after Wednesday’s loss. While that still adds up to a 27-19 record, the Nets play four of their final seven before the All-Star Break against teams above .500, then play their first three after the break against Milwaukee and Houston – teams that are currently and likely will be in the black, and teams they’re currently 0-3 against – before facing Memphis and New Orleans to round out February.

Translation: If trends hold up and the Nets stay perfect against sub-.500 teams while winning a third of their games against winning squads, they’ll finish February with a record somewhere around 6-6 or 7-5 – a far cry from the 11-4 marks of November/January and much closer to the 5-11 December that caused all the chaos in the first place.

As Yogi Berra would say, it’s “déjà vu all over again” in Brooklyn right now, and only time will tell what lies ahead for the Nets – and whether or not Wednesday’s loss was the beginning of another “Hyde” cycle or the catalyst for breaking the habit.

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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