BROOKLYN – Here’s the drawback to getting to that last rest stop before reaching the top of the mountain: There’s a natural tendency to stop and enjoy the view.
The Brooklyn Nets got back to .500 for the first time since Nov. 5 on Monday night with a convincing 96-80 win over the rough and tough Chicago Bulls in Barclays Center.
It has been a long climb since their record was 10-21. The Nets had to overcome the season-ending injury to center Brook Lopez, which necessitated coach Jason Kidd putting in new offensive and defensive systems.
Finally, the Nets reached once more, pulling themselves to within one game of the Washington Wizards for the fifth playoff seed in the Eastern Conference and to within three and one-half games of overtaking the Toronto Raptors for first place in the Atlantic Division.
The view sure is better than it was on Dec. 31 after a 113-92 loss at San Antonio. The Nets were 11 games under .500. There’s no time to enjoy the vista.
“We can’t rest right there,’’ said veteran forward Paul Pierce. “That’s the key. We hit a benchmark that we’ve been fighting for all season. Now it’s time to surpass that.
“Hopefully we can feed off of that, continue to grow as a team. The playoffs are right around the corner... Right now is the time to be playing well, and continue to play better than .500 basketball.”
That’s the benefit of having veterans such as Pierce in the locker room. It’s about the playoffs, the quest for the title.
Still, this win should be enjoyed. Not only were the Nets (29-29) without Kevin Garnett (back spasms), but they were playing a team that had twice tossed them around like an empty sack of flour.
The Bulls (33-27) had pulverized the Nets, 92-76, on Feb. 13 in Chicago, holding Brooklyn to its lowest point total of the season.
And the 95-78 beatdown the Bulls handed the Nets here on Christmas Day left the fans booing and Brooklyn with a 9-19 record.
On this night the .500 Nets left the court to an ovation usually reserved for a playoff game. Coincidentally, season ticket packages for 2014-15 went on sale Monday.
“Mentally, the Bulls have really had our number,’’ said Pierce. “To be honest, if I was them, I’d feel like when I come play the Nets, I’ll beat them every time.
“But I feel like guys just had pride tonight to say we’re tired of getting pushed around by the Bulls. We decided we wanted to take the fight to them, be the aggressors first.
“Usually it’s the opposite. We played with a fire we don’t always play with. I told the guys, ‘If we play like we play tonight, we’re a tough team to beat.’ ”
The Bulls came in on a four-game win streak, having won nine of 10. But the Nets, with a season-high 19 steals, forced the Bulls into a season-high 25 turnovers.
The 6-7, 235-pound Pierce, playing the power forward spot, led the Nets with his most physical performance of the season. He constantly won the battle against the 6-9, 266-pound Carlos Boozer.
Pierce finished with 14 points, seven rebounds, five assists and one assist. Deron Williams led all scorers with 20 points. Joe Johnson added 19.
“We’re not a team that anybody’s scared of,’’ Pierce said towards the end of the Nets recent six-game road trip.
That might have changed Monday night in Barclays Center.