One of my favorite stats is Defensive Rating, which measures the amount of points allowed per 100 possessions. I like Defensive Rating a lot more for analyzing a team's defense than an individual player's, and I don't think any other stat tells the story of the Nets' turnaround during that five-game stretch more than Defensive Rating does.
Over Brooklyn's first 31 games of the year, spanning from the start of the season until New Year's Eve in San Antonio, the Nets were 10-21 and had a 106.7 Defensive Rating as a team. Only two teams gave up more points per 100 possessions in that span, and the league-worst Defensive Rating was 107.7, just one full point higher.
However, over the course of the Nets' five-game winning streak that began with their incredible win January 2 in Oklahoma City, the results could not be more different. In that five game sample that included wins over the Thunder, the Heat, the Warriors and the Hawks, the Nets put up a very strong 97.9 Defensive Rating as a team.
How good a mark is that 97.9 Defensive Rating? Among teams that played at least five games between January 1 and January 10, it was the fifth-best mark in the NBA. From 28th best over their first 31 games to fifth-best over their next five. In fact, only two teams have a better mark than 97.9 over the course of the full season to date.
Of course, the Nets took a bit of a step back on Saturday, giving up a 109.9 Defensive Rating to their loss to the Raptors. That game was also the second game of a back-to-back after an intense double-overtime win, and the Nets were without arguably their best defensive player, Kevin Garnett. So take that game with a grain of salt.
You could tell just from the eye test that the difference on defense has been night and day. The traditional numbers show the same. Before New Year's Day, 102.4 points per game allowed, 23rd in the NBA. Over the five-game win streak, 90.8 points per game allowed, fifth-best among teams with at least five games played in that span.
There's no doubt in my mind, if the Nets continue to play defense like they did over the first five games of this month, they'll rack up W's more often than not. They seem to be in a pretty good groove right now, and if they keep up this high level of play, I think they'll end up where they want to be when it's all said and done.