Moke Hamilton, SNYNets.com
As the game's final meaningless seconds ticked from eight to seven and six to five, the Brooklyn Nets had announced to the city of the New York that it would be a laughingstock no more. In the end, for Carmelo Anthony and his Knicks, 35—the amount of points he scored—wasn't the most memorable number.
Instead, it was six—the amount of free throws he missed. His New York Knicks defeated, for Anthony, the talk afterward wasn't what went right, but what went wrong.
Two days later in Boston, after Kris Humphries was needlessly and flagrantly attacked by Rajon Rondo and the Nets lost two-fifths of its starting lineup due to the ensuing ejections, they collaborated and persevered, holding on to defeat a Boston Celtics team that fought in vain to avenge the Nets Nov. 15 victory over them in Brooklyn.
Indeed, Brooklyn has become a chant.
But more importantly, right before our very eyes, Brooklyn has become a team.
Depth. Balance. Leadership. Cohesion.
At 11-4, finally, it's time to wake up and stop sleeping on Brooklyn.
The Nets, winners of five straight games, will challenge the reigning NBA champion Miami Heat in their American Airlines Arena on Saturday night. And the last time the Nets played there, they were soundly defeated, 103-73.
In the 12 games since then, though, the Nets have evolved. The 10 victories during that stretch is no aberration.
The porous perimeter has been plugged and entering play Friday night, the Nets were allowing opponents to score just 90.7 point per game—first in the NBA.
The team has shown patience and cohesion on the offensive end, despite the shooting struggles of the two top guns, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson.
Brook Lopez—the once considered clumsy and immobile center that couldn't rebound—became an interior force, averaging 2.9 blocks per game while shooting 56 percent from the field.
Gerald Wallace has returned and has played with his normal reckless abandon, inspiring his teammates on both ends of the floor.
Andray Blatche, C.J. Watson and Jerry Stackhouse have gone from forgotten, taken for granted, and dismissed to being rejuvenated, respected, and remembered.
In the era of the super team, a solid eight man rotation is a requisite for supremacy. The first four off of the bench—Watson, Blatche, Stackhouse and Reggie Evans—have their individual roles. They each play their respective positions and they play them well. Together, the Nets are a greater sum than they are individually.
But these Nets—the Brooklyn Nets—is no longer the transient franchise we've grown accustomed to seeing since Bruce Ratner, on his 59th birthday, won the right to purchase the team for $300 million.
Brooklyn was the goal. A competitive team was the dream.
Now, we're here.
The Nets are a new team. Re-branded. Relocated. Re-rostered.
Five players returned from last season's team—six if you count Keith Bogans, who played just five games for the club last season before being released. 60 percent is a majority and 60 percent of this roster is new.
The 12-70 Nets were a long time ago. And those that stick to the stubborn proclamations that say the Nets are not a team to be taken seriously simply haven't been paying close enough attention.
Those critics, certainly, haven't crossed the Brooklyn Bridge recently. Clearly, they haven't taken the Long Island Railroad to Atlantic Terminal, and no, they've never entered Barclays Center from the Dean Street entrance.
Strength of schedule aside, the Nets haven't won games because opponents have laid down. The Nets have won games because they're a solid basketball team. These Nets are no fluke.
And whether or not the Nets win in Miami on Saturday night is immaterial. In the NBA, teams make hay by beating those they are supposed to beat, and the Heat do not yet qualify as a team that the Nets are "supposed" to beat.
Regardless of what happens on Saturday night, the NBA season is long and strenuous. Good wins, bad losses, mediocre efforts. From Dec. 1 to April 1, we'll see it all; four months of hills and valleys, just like any NBA team.
And like any other NBA team, the Nets aren't perfect. But what they are is balanced. Aside from the center position, the Nets are two deep everywhere else and all players in its rotation can—and have—led them to victory over the course of this young season.
They're not the most talented, but they are deep.
They're not yet universally respected, but they should be.
Before it's all said and done, they will be.
A tough stretch awaits, especially as the Nets await the return of Brook Lopez. Prior to suffering a ligament sprain in his right foot, Lopez was putting it all together. Uninterrupted forays into the paint became blocked shots at the rim and needless turnovers in the post became converted free-throws.
Lopez became an anchor for the Nets and the team will be tested in his absence. But at full strength, even if the Nets haven't yet proven that they're championship contenders, they have proven that they're worthy of universal respect.
Brooklyn smelled the coffee long ago—long before me. The borough has been awake. Now, it's time for the rest of the league to catch up.
Oh yes, Brooklyn has become a chant, but more importantly Brooklyn has become a team.
A good team.
Dawn approaches. Brooklyn is awake. It's about time everyone else catches up.
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