Despite all the stuff — the 1-5 start, the coaching change, 11 games without Kyrie Irving, 11 games without Ben Simmons, four straight losses without Kevin Durant — the Brooklyn Nets are 29-17, just one game back of the second-place Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference standings. On Jan. 9, when they announced Durant had sprained his MCL, they had the second-best record in the NBA and were within a game of the first-place Boston Celtics thanks to an 18-wins-in-20-games rampage featuring a predictably sizzling offense (fourth in the league before the injury, 119 points per 100 possessions in those 20 games) and a less predictably stingy defense (110.3 per 100 in that stretch, now seventh in the league). At full strength, or even close to it, Brooklyn is a championship contender.
The Nets are not in this position simply because Durant is in the middle of the most efficient season of his career (and perhaps his finest defensive season, too). They are here because a plan has come together. Last May, after losing four close games against the Boston Celtics in the first round of the playoffs, team president Sean Marks said that Brooklyn had to surround the stars with size, versatility, IQ and players “with a chip on their shoulder, with resilience, with something to prove.”
The Nets had limited tools at their disposal and Durant inconveniently requested a trade right before free agency, but, more than halfway through the regular season, their summer haul looks like a string of heists. The 23-year-old big man they re-signed for less than the midlevel has taken a giant leap. The glue guy that cost them a late first-round pick is thriving in more than a 3-and-D role. The versatile forward they scooped up off the scrap heap is the league’s most accurate 3-point shooter. The gunslinger they signed for the minimum looks a lot like he did two surgeries ago. All of them complement Brooklyn’s…Source www.cbssports.com