By Jason Schott – BrooklynFans.com Reporter / Assignment Editor – @JESchott19
The Brooklyn Nets have gone through an emotional nine-day stretch that will be viewed as the turning point of the season if they make the playoffs. They began it as a team in search of itself, and finished it looking like the team that went 11-4 in November.
Nets Head Coach P.J. Carlesimo said of the nine-day stretch, “It was an experience, been a scramble. The team has played really well and that’s the main thing. They’ve found ways to get wins.”
The Nets record was 14-14 when Avery Johnson was dismissed as head coach on December 27th and Carlesimo took over.
The Nets won on December 28th, in Brooklyn 97-81 over the Charlotte Bobcats. The story that night was Nets Principal Owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s declaration that “P.J. is our coach” to deflect talk of a search for a head coach.
The next night, they looked no different than they had all season, as they raced out to a big lead, stumbled in the second half, and held on for a 103-100 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Two days later was perhaps the most pivotal day of the stretch, and did more for this team than the Johnson firing. They were outscored 30-5 in the third quarter of a 104-73 loss in San Antonio. This was rock bottom, and it got them angry.
Carlesimo held an intensive practice the next day, in which he helped to continue to implement his offense. That helped prepare them for their battle with the NBA’s best team, the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night.
The result was apparent, as the Nets came out with resolve and opened up a 23-point lead. The more important thing was how they responded after Oklahoma City tied the game at 85 with seven minutes left. They closed the game on a 25-8 run to seal the 110-93 win, their biggest of the season.
The next day, there were many signs that Carlesimo would be the head coach for the rest of the season. The win in Oklahoma City earned him that honor.
Friday night turned into a marathon in Washington, as the Nets looked tired and could not put away the Wizards. The game went all the way into double overtime, and the Nets won it 115-113 on a Joe Johnson jumper.
The good feeling from that carried into a 113-93 win over Sacramento on Saturday night at Barclays Center. The key in this win was the play of the bench, mainly MarShon Brooks and Mirza Teletovic. That allowed the starters to play around 25 minutes, a needed respite after Friday night.
“We overcame a tight schedule timewise. We had to get through a stretch where we had to deal with six games in nine days, nine in 14 before going back to Christmas, been tough, got tougher with the double OT game, ” said Carlesimo.
Of the effect on his starters, Carlesimo said, “That’s the tough thing about the NBA for the big-minutes guys, all that they go through…I’m tired and I’m just coaching, could just imagine how tired those guys are.”
An issue the Nets have dealt with is injuries. Carlesimo said that he has relied on Athletic Trainer Tim Walsh to tell him how healthy his team really is because players like Gerald Wallce and Deron Williams are always ready to play. “Some guys say they’re good, and then you see them on the floor for six minutes and you know they’re hurt,” said Carlesimo before Saturday night’s game.
Andray Blatche said of the nine-day stretch, “It’s been great, just going out and playing hard. P.J. put together a couple of good practices; we’re not missing a beat.”
Blatche said the schedule is easing up in January, “Definitely more days off, good for the older players to get healthy, and good for the younger guys so they can learn more.”
MarShon Brooks likes playing for Carlesimo, and said of the new coach, “He’s a good motivator, gets us going, puts us in a position to win. We’ve done a good job of listening.”
Brooks is getting his chance as Jerry Stackhouse and C.J. Watson have missed games due to injuries. He is now the point guard for the second unit.
A reason Brooks did not play much under Avery Johnson was that Johnson felt he didn’t play enough defense. The one time he played sustained minutes early in the season was on December 9th against Milwaukee, and he had 14 points in 20 minutes.
On whether Carlesimo has taught him more on defense, Brooks said, “He definitely has. He’s telling me what the players (on the opposing team) are going to do, like he played against them himself.”
The Nets are 5-1 with Carlesimo as head coach, and part of the reason is his ability to utilize the entire roster. Working in Brooks and Teletovic, as well as Tyshawn Taylor, has been key to this stretch. He is using 12 players a night, and that is keeping everyone fresh and it is showing in a faster-paced offense.