Your New Jersey Nets have won four consecutive games.
Sure, all four of their opponents during the ministreak have been under .500. Sure, they played the Toronto Raptors twice, and they haven’t even heard of defense.
But what you must realize is that the Nets are now, unbelievably, 17-16 at home. More shocking is the fact that, after the Indiana Pacers’ sudden tailspin, that they’re only five-and-a-half games out of the playoffs — and Deron Williams hasn’t even played in the last two contests.
It’s an unrealistically optimistic perspective to believe that the Nets will make the postseason this year, what with the schedule only getting harder as the days go by, but it’s beginning to appear that the Nets aren’t just a joke. They have the will to win, and it showed in the second half and overtime of Friday’s game against the Clippers.
Normally, it’s the Nets who find a may to miraculously bow out in the third quarter of games in which they are winning or losing by a little. So tonight was a bit of a surprise. The Clippers dominated in basically every regard in the first half, owning the paint and turning the ball over three times. The Nets had no offensive rhythm: Williams wasn’t around to find cutters and create points himself, and Anthony Morrow and Sasha Vujacic couldn’t buy a shot.
Meanwhile, Chris Kaman was playing like the abominable Kaman of yore, locks of hair flowing in the breeze, rebounding everything in sight, coming up with creative post moves, and hitting turnaround jumpers like he’s Kobe. It got to the point that the Nets were happy to see DeAndre Jordan, the starter, come back into the game.
But the real story of the first half was … THE DUNKS. The Clippers dunk a lot, but this was plain ridiculous: their first five field goals were all dunks, and it just kept going from there. The post defense was really pathetic early on, so Avery Johnson went for the obvious solution: put Travis Outlaw at the 4 to guard Blake Griffin! Duh …
By the end of the first half, it looked like a blowout to most. Fortunately, I have much experience with the Clippers this season. If the Nets are the Johan Petros of blowing second-half leads, then the Clippers are the Joel Anthonys of blowing second-half leads. There’s too much terrible to go around, but in the end, someone’s going to screw up.
The Nets finally found a groove on the offensive end that didn’t involve Brook Lopez in the second half. Jordan Farmar was scarily hot, nailing ill-advised three-pointers left and right. Kris Humphries didn’t miss a shot all night, and even Travis Outlaw got invited to the midrange-jumper party for a short stretch.
Once more, New Jersey got excellent minutes off the bench from Sundiata Gaines, who needs to get a contract for the rest of this season. In fact, I want to see him return as a cheap backup next year — if someone will take Farmar’s contract off the Nets’ hands. He’s a good effort player, a good passer, and a decent shooter. I just hope that he’s not giving it his all just because he’s trying to earn a roster spot, but I’m fairly confident that’s the case.
You have to be thrilled with the Nets’ strategy in overtime of forcing the ball into Brook Lopez, even though it meant, on a number of occasions, terrible three-point attempts by Farmar. Still, Lopez could not be denied on the low block, and he made the difference int he extra period. Still, he had to play 45 minutes for the Nets to get a win, and one might wonder why Brandan Wright didn’t get a single minute of burn; in fact, he might have been especially useful on the defensive end with all the athleticism in the Clippers’ frontcourt. It’s becoming increasingly clear, though, that Wright isn’t in the team’s plans beyond this season.
It’ll be nice for the Nets to have Deron Williams back in future games, and viewers should be in store for several more wins — that the playoffs are now kind of in sniffing distance, it might actually motivate the team to play well down the stretch.
Still, the playoffs seem to be a lost cause, but it’s all about preparing for next year: if the Nets can apply what they’ve developed this year into a full season with Williams and maybe, though I hope not, Zach Randolph or David West, it will result in the team’s first trip to the playoffs since 2007.