Why the Nets Are Winning
By John Schuhmann

Jan. 10, 2006 - What a difference a month makes. One month ago, the Nets were in the middle of a 2-5 stretch that included home losses to Toronto and Charlotte and a blowout in Washington. They were certainly not playing like the team that won 15 of their last 19 games last season and was the clear favorite to win the Atlantic Division.

Standing at 9-12 on Dec. 16, they hosted the Denver Nuggets at the Meadowlands and needed a Jason Kidd three and a bit of luck (Eduardo Najera's game-winning dunk came a fraction of a second too late) to force overtime, where they won going away. That game started them on what is now the longest winning streak the NBA has seen this season at 10 games. They will put that streak on the line in San Antonio tonight at 8:30 ET on NBA TV.

During the streak, they've gone from being tied for 10th in the Eastern Conference to holding the second seed with a 3 1/2 game lead in the Atlantic. During the streak, they've ended Cleveland's six-game streak, Toronto's five-game run and won in Miami while the Heat were winning 9-of-12.

So what has changed? Well, the easy answer is the play of Vince Carter, but as coach Lawrence Frank will tell you, "Anytime you are able to play at a different level than what you've done in the past, it's got to be more than one thing."

We agree, so here are five things:

The Nets run starts with Vinsanity.
Ron Turenne/NBAE/Getty Images
1. Vince Carter has been more aggressive offensively.
In the first 21 games of the season, Carter took 15.1 shots per game, shooting .445 from the field. During the streak, he has taken 22.1 shots per game at a .462 clip. And those are just field goal attempts. A more impressive number may be his free throw attempts, which have gone from 5.0 per game in the first 21 to 12.1 in the last 10. As a result, Carter's is averaging 33.5 points per game during the streak, up from 20.5 in the first 21 games. The Nets are 8-1 when Carter scores 30 or more this season, the only loss being a one-point defeat in Miami in early November.

It took some encouragement from his teammates to get him going, as Richard Jefferson told us in his blog.

"There would be times when I had like four points and I would keep telling him 'Vince, keep being aggressive,'" Jefferson wrote. "I think he started to see that that's what we wanted from him. It wasn't about me worrying about how many points I or somebody else has. Once he saw that his aggressiveness was the most important thing to us, it allowed him to be more confident out there."

While Carter is certainly looking for his shot more, he is always looking to create opportunities for his teammates.

"I have just taken the initiative to come out and be aggressive, put my mark on the game early," Carter told us. "I try to make teams defend me and maybe put two or three guys on me. Once that happens, other guys start stepping up."

Jefferson is still producing despite reduced touches.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
2. Richard Jefferson has been more efficient offensively.
Jefferson's shot attempts have decreased from 12.0 per game during the first 21 to 10.8 over the last 10 (not including Sunday's game in which he left after two minutes with back spasms) and his free throw attempts have gone from 8.6 to 7.0, but his scoring average has stayed virtually the same (from 19.2 in the first 21 to 19.0 in the last 10). RJ is getting out on the break more and he is also getting better looks in the halfcourt thanks to Carter's ability to draw multiple defenders. During the streak, Jefferson is shooting an incredible .588 from the field, up from .496 before the run started.

3. They are still sharing the ball.
Yes, Carter is taking more shots, but the Nets are not running a lot of isolations for him. He is scoring within their motion offense, which makes him more difficult to defend. During the streak, the Nets have assisted on 265 of their 369 field goals, 71.8 percent. In the first 21 games, they assisted on 63.9 percent of their makes. It starts with their two leaders. Jason Kidd's assists have gone from 7.1 per game in the first 21 to 10.4 in the last 10 and Vince Carter's have gone from 3.3 to 5.1. So forcing VC to pass the ball isn't necessarily a good thing for Nets opponents.

4. Jason Kidd.
You can't talk about the Nets' success without highlighting Jason Kidd. We mentioned his assist numbers above, but it's more than just that. The seven-time All-Star controls the game without necessarily putting up big numbers. He has looked to push the ball more, resulting in 17.5 fast break points per game during the streak, as opposed to 11.9 in the first 21 games. The Nets are 12-2 when they get 16 or more points on the break.

5. The defense has improved.
The Nets have stepped it up on the other end of the floor as well. They have held their opponents to 94.7 points per game during the streak, down from 96.0 before it started. The key has been their perimeter defense and the key to that has been Jacque Vaughn. Vaughn's minutes have gone from 6.2 in the first 21 games to 18.2 in the last 10. He is able to guard the smaller, quicker point guards and allow Jason Kidd to defend the two. Interestingly, it may be Vaughn's offense that is helping the team defense the most. His jumper is much more reliable this season than it was last year, allowing Lawrence Frank to keep his best defensive team on the floor longer without worrying about the offense.