The Brooklyn Nets are rolling.
They equaled a franchise mark for wins in March thanks to a 12-4 record over the last month. Their 31-12 record in 2014 is tops in the Eastern Conference.
Much of the credit for this amazing turnaround has gone to head coach Jason Kidd, who won the NBA's Coach of the Month award for March. He also won the award in January, making him the first rookie coach since Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls to win the award twice in one year.
But, according to Kidd himself, his team's revival is largely the result of a change in personnel usage since All-Star center Brook Lopez was lost for the season to a foot injury.
Per the New York Daily News' Stefan Bondy:
I think the injury is something that changed the whole landscape of who we were trying to be. When you look at with Brook in, we were trying to play through Brook, play inside-out. But now with Brook out, we went with what you guys call a small lineup, even though Joe Johnson is just as big as anyone and he's our post player -- or Deron (Williams) or Shaun (Livingston). So we just kind of changed the face of who we play inside and now we've given guys who weren't getting a lot of attempts at the 3. That's probably the thing that has changed with the Nets is that we shuffled different guys and with Paul (Pierce) playing the stretch (power forward), we kind of found our identity at that point.
Lopez played his final game of the season in a Dec. 20 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. After the game, it was revealed that the center had broken the fifth metatarsal in his right foot. He would undergo two procedures to correct the condition in January and another, separate procedure to repair a torn tendon and tighten the lateral ligaments in his left ankle in March, per Sports Illustrated's Ben Golliver.
The Nets lost four of their final five games in December after Lopez's injury, but quickly rebounded with a five-game winning streak as soon as the calendar flipped to January. The wins corresponded perfectly to Kidd's decision to put Shaun Livingston into the starting lineup prior to a Jan. 2 game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Unfortunately for Brooklyn fans, there is no guarantee that Livingston will be back next year. He will be an unrestricted free agent in the offseason, and the capped-out Nets can only offer him at most a three-year, $10 million deal, per The Brooklyn Game's Devin Kharpertian.
If Livingston were to depart, Kidd could be forced to once again play more traditional lineups. While Nets general manager Billy King has endorsed Lopez as an acceptable fit for Kidd's new small-ball system, Bondy has his doubts: "King has said that Lopez can fit into Kidd's revised system, but it's not a ringing endorsement when the coach credits a turnaround to the center's removal from the roster."
Lopez is signed for one more season, with a $16.7 million player option for 2015-16. Unless they can find a suitor on the trade market, Kidd will have to adjust next season's lineups to fit Lopez.