Two years ago, tickets to see a home game for the Brooklyn Nets—then playing out their final days in the Prudential Center as the New Jersey Nets—were selling for as little as a single cent on some secondary markets.
Fans might have to dig a bit deeper into their couch cushions this spring.
The Nets won their 14th home game in a row Wednesday night, dispatching the Houston Rockets 105-96 to secure the newly minted franchise’s second playoff berth in as many seasons.
Pitted against one of the Western Conference’s more formidable squads, Brooklyn used a combination of crisp ball movement and intermittently stifling defense en route to yet another win in front of yet another sellout crowd.
What a difference a calendar page makes.
|Happy New Year|
|Oct. 30 - Dec. 31||101.9||106.7||-4.8||10-21|
|Jan. 1 - April 1||106.3||102.1||4.2||30-12|
That drastic disparity is thrown into even starker relief when you look at Brooklyn’s performance in its Barclays Center digs:
|Oct 30. - Dec. 31||104.0||106.1||-2.1||6-9|
|Jan. 1 - April 1||109.8||100.0||9.8||20-2|
It goes without saying that if the Nets have any hope of making some real noise, such home domination must be part and parcel of the playoff protocol.
If the season ended today, Brooklyn would be pitted against the No. 4 seed Chicago Bulls, who ousted the Nets in a seven-game slugfest in last year’s first round.
During that series, the Bulls managed to steal a pair of wins on Brooklyn’s home floor, including the deciding Game 7.
Clearly dismayed by his team’s lackluster performance, owner Mikhail Prokhorov spent the following summer inking a slew of high-profile veterans to bolster Brooklyn’s chops, including Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko.
While Pierce has been a constant staple throughout the 2013-14 season, the latter two have been regularly sidelined, most recently with back and ankle ailments, respectively.
Couple those injuries with the one sustained by Brook Lopez—shelved for the season following a broken foot suffered back in December—you could forgive first-year head coach Jason Kidd for wondering if his rail-thin front line could weather the brunt of the always-brutal NBA schedule.
Instead, the Nets have used a small-ball starting lineup of Deron Williams, Shaun Livingston, Joe Johnson, Pierce and Mason Plumlee to exacting effect, as noted by Bleacher Report’s Joe Flynn. From Kidd:
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.
So too, it appears, has the team’s arena. What at times seemed little more than a sterile, dimly lit totem to the Caligulan excesses of its financiers, Barclays has lately evolved into a consistently vivacious, vocally charged cauldron of home cooking—an atmosphere not unlike that of the much-heralded mecca just a few miles north and west.
At the center of Brooklyn’s steady resurgence: a distinctly us-against-the-world outlook that doesn’t seem to jive with the size of its team’s payroll. Except it’s working, as Bleacher Report’s Zach Buckley recently pointed out:
That's how the most expensive team in NBA history, offseason contenders with as much on-paper talent as anyone, finds itself in the unlikeliest of places: under the radar. The Nets have too much name power, too many zeroes on their financial books to be in this position. With a slew of generational stars on the roster, this group shouldn't have a chip on its shoulder unless billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov purchased one for it. Yet the Nets are carrying that chip wherever they go.
If they can stand that angry weight into April, no one—not the Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers or Miami Heat—will want to tussle with a team so veteran-laden and, assuming Garnett and Kirilenko can be brought back into the fold, uniquely deep.
And while their owner has proven willing and able to bend the bank for the sake of his team, the Nets ought not take this opportunity for granted.
Indeed, there are only two certainties for Brooklyn going forward: another year for what is, at its core, an aging team, and another heavy tax bill for Prokhorov.
Which is all going a long way to say this may be the best chance they have to make good on his gaudy gamble.
For the moment, however, the focus can—and should—be trained on Tuesday’s accomplishment: a second playoff berth in as many years for a franchise in the midst of forging its own identity.
For a team fast approaching $200 million in payroll, the feat might not seem worthy of added praise. But if Brooklyn's home domination is any kind of postseason bellwether, the Nets could be poised to make far more noise than anyone expects.