A reason for optimism

Following an embarrassing loss to the Portland Trail Blazers the Nets appeared to be in crisis mode. Kevin Garnett skipped his regularly scheduled trip to the podium and the media was held out of the locker room for almost a half hour following the game. (NBA rules stipulate they open up no more than 15 minutes after a game ends.) Deron Williams was inactive and was not required to speak with the media. Garnett and Paul Pierce, however, were required by the NBA to face the music. They didn’t, slipping out the back without addressing what went wrong on the court or what was said behind closed doors.

The devastating loss, which saw Brooklyn pour in 40 first quarter points and just 58 the rest of the game, came two days after a trip out to Los Angeles to face the Clippers. The Nets lost that game as well, although they were missing four starters — Williams, Garnett, Pierce, and Lopez. The private players meeting did little to change the fortunes of the team though. The Nets went on to lose three more games, finally halting the five game skid up in Toronto a week later.

Before breaking through against the Raptors the Nets hosted the Detroit Pistons for an early Sunday matinee. Brooklyn took a seven point lead into the half before being clobbered in the third quarter 34-15 (yet again), sealing their fifth straight loss. Brandon Jennings and Rodney Stuckey ran amok through the Nets’ porous defense, while Greg Monroe coasted to a double-double with no Brook Lopez around.

The Nets had their hearts ripped out against the Blazers. The turnaround after the first quarter was cringe-worthy. Still though, the team was fired up after their dismal performance and vowed to turn things around. Six days later, the fire had been extinguished. There was no players only meeting; no Kevin Garnett table slapping; no promises that things would turn around. That day the Nets were a defeated team. Injuries have plagued the team all season, but the guys who did suit up that day were out of answers and out of passion.

Fast forward to Thursday night. Brooklyn looked like a completely different team in their second match up with the Clippers — and not just because they had a healthy Deron Williams and Brook Lopez starting. The Nets fell behind 23-10 with 3:28 left in the first quarter, then reeled off an extended 73-39 run through the end of the third quarter. That is not a typo. A 13-point deficit became a 21-point advantage in under 28 minutes of playing time.

It was the Nets’ third straight win and for the first time since beating the Miami Heat way back on November 1st, there is hope and excitement in the locker room. Several players were cracking jokes and smiles were abundant. Clearly, having Deron Williams back to his old self has made a huge impact. The players also mentioned the recent scheme adjustments on defense as helping turn things around. With a relatively weak slate of games coming up the Nets have a chance to creep back into the Eastern Conference playoff race. As crazy and inconceivable as it sounds, Brooklyn is actually tied in the loss column with the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Celtics.

It’s not time to announce that the Nets have reached contender status — not by a long shot. Slowly but surely though, things are beginning to come together. They are talking more on defense, helping each other with rotations, and it’s translating into more ball movement on the offensive end of the floor. There’s still a long way to go with more potholes along the way, but Nets fans finally have a reason to be optimistic. Even Brook Lopez, who gave the Nets faithful and his teammates a scare when he sprained his left ankle in the third quarter, was all smiles post-game and hopeful to play tomorrow in Detroit.

Hopefully, the revenge tour will continue in the Motor City.