A little over three years ago, Sean Marks was officially introduced as the general manager of the Brooklyn Nets, and three months later Kenny Atkinson was named as the coach of the rebuilding project.
Two painful seasons followed, but in Year 3, the Nets are in the playoff picture in a crowded Eastern Conference race.
Brooklyn resumes its playoff push Thursday night when it hosts the Portland Trail Blazers, who are starting a season-high seven-game road trip.
At 30-29, the Nets headed into the All-Star break with a winning record for the first time since the 2012-13 season. When they last reached the playoffs in 2014-15, the Nets held a 21-31 record at the break and finished at 38-44.
Brooklyn enters its final 23 games in sixth place in the East, two games ahead of Charlotte, 2 1/2 ahead of Detroit and Miami and three in front of Orlando.
"I think it's going to be a dogfight," Atkinson told reporters during a conference call Tuesday. "A lot of those teams are playing well. Orlando has really picked it up, Detroit has really picked it up, Charlotte has a ton of experience with a veteran group.
"Our sole focus has got to be us continuing to play good basketball and close out these games in a positive fashion."
The Nets are in playoff contention in a season where they were 8-18 on Dec. 5. They are 22-11 in their last 33 games since losing eight straight, and 14-3 at home since starting their turnaround with an overtime win over Toronto on Dec. 7.
Brooklyn has six losses in its last nine games but went into the All-Star break by getting an electrifying 148-139 triple-overtime victory at Cleveland on Feb. 13. D'Angelo Russell, who scored six points in the All-Star game, had 36 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in the thriller in Cleveland.
Russell is averaging a career-high 20.3 points and 6.6 assists and has 10 30-point games this season, three more than his first three seasons combined. During Brooklyn's turnaround, Russell is averaging 22.1 points, 7.4 assists while shooting 45.6 percent and 38.2 percent from 3-point range. >> Read More
Copyright 2019 by the Associated Press