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February 3, 2014
BROOKLYN - Admit it, you're getting your money's worth.
You thought this season was going to be an express train to the Eastern Conference Finals. What a ride it's been.
The Nets couldn't get it together at the start of the season. Jason Kidd shuffled his coaching staff. Brook Lopez was lost for the season with a broken bone in his right foot. Kidd went small-ball and the Nets won 10 of 11 to start January and get back into the playoff picture.
For that accomplishment, Kidd, in his rookie season as a coach, was named the NBA Coach of the Month for January.
"I'm still feeling my way," Kidd said. "I'm still early in my young coaching career, but I've seen a lot the first couple months. But the biggest thing is being able to communicate with those guys and making sure that we're all on the same page."
Kidd is dead on.
January is in the rear view mirror. The Nets snapped a three-game losing streak Monday night in Barclays Center with a 108-102 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
The streak was comprised of one-point losses to Toronto and at Indiana sandwiched around a 25-point blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"It's been a tough week," guard Joe Johnson said after the Nets dropped a 97-96 decision to the Pacers. "We need to get some of our chemistry back, like we had earlier in January."
The Nets (21-25), unfortunately, also find themselves in the familiar position of having to get healthy again. Johnson, who was named to the All-Star team, became the final Nets starter to miss a game due to injury when he didn't play against the Sixers because of tendonitis in his right knee.
Johnson, who had the knee iced and wrapped in the third quarter of Saturday night's loss at Indiana, said the joint has been bothering him for a while and previous measures to quell the inflammation were not successful.
"We've done X-rays. Everything's good,'' said Johnson. "The doctors told me the only thing that's gonna help me is rest. And I'm just doing the necessary things I need to do to stay on top of it, to calm this tendinitis down so I can get back out there as soon as possible."
The Nets went into the 76ers game significantly undermanned. Andray Blatche missed his third game with a sore left hip. And Andrei Kirilenko missed his third straight game with a bruised right calf.
The Nets have been able to withstand the rash of injuries fairly well but there is reason to be concerned. Here's a look at what the Nets can feel good about going forward and what they need to be worried about.
CLEAN THOSE WINDOWS: Kidd found a way around losing All-Star center Brook Lopez for the season by going to small ball. It has made the Nets a matchup nightmare on offense and a long, quick team on defense.
But the Nets now find themselves at a rebounding disadvantage. The Nets set an NBA record with just 17 boards against Oklahoma City. The Pacers crushed the Nets on the boards, 48-27.
Indiana had 12 offensive boards that led to 16 second-chance points, which was essentially the difference in the game. If the Nets don't clean up their work on the glass they will not go deep in the playoffs.
SHAUN OF THE LIVING: The injuries, especially to starting point guard Deron Williams, have opened the door for Shaun Livingston, who has gotten better each month.
Livingston averaged 12 points on 57-percent shooting with 3.4 rebounds and two assists over the last 10 games. He seems to have made it back all the way from the devastating injury he suffered in 2007.
Not only has Livingston been great at the point, allowing Williams to move to more of a shooting guard role, he's been solid on defense. In the Indiana loss, Livingston (with help from Alan Anderson), held Paul George to 7-of-19 shooting.
In the win over Philly, Livingston had a career-high seven steals to go with 13 points, eight assists and six rebounds in 37 minutes.
DERON WILLIAMS STRUGGLES: The Nets are built around Williams. Every move G.M. Billy King has made has been with the star point in mind. When healthy, he's as talented a point guard as there is in the league. But Williams has rarely been healthy the last two seasons.
Since coming back from his third left ankle sprain of the season, Williams acknowledged after the Indiana loss that he's lost some confidence. If the Nets are going to go anywhere this season, he has to regain it.
"[My confidence] is not at my highest," he said. "It's been tough being in and out of the lineups, missing two weeks here and there. I feel like I get my legs back in shape, get back in shape and then just do it all again.''
Williams said he has been his harshest critic, something he must find a way through. He is refreshingly honest about his game and mindset but if he's to be the focal point of this team, he can't suffer these crises of confidence.
"That's what I have to stop doing (being too hard on myself), I don't know," Williams said. "That's just me. That's how I am. So somehow, I have to stop it."
GO WEST YOUNG MAN: The Nets have to take advantage of the upcoming schedule. Not including Monday night's game, the Nets are home for three of the next four games before playing the next seven on the road.
That stretch includes a demanding West Coast swing with two tough back-to-back games. The Nets play the Warriors and Lakers on Feb. 22 and 23 and then face the Trail Blazers and Nuggets on the 26th and 27th.