Nets Gains and Losses: There's a Strange Magic at Work in Brooklyn


Nets Gains and Losses: There's a Strange Magic at Work in Brooklyn

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BROOKLYN - There have been a lot of theories to explain the Brooklyn Nets’ remarkable turnaround this season, a transformation that has been nothing short of extraordinary.

Some of the explanations are as basic as this: The Nets got healthy and Jason Kidd found the right systems on defense and offense that have provided the Nets with an identity.

But there is a strange magic at work here that might have more to do with the Nets’ success than what has happened in the trainer’s room or in skull sessions.

Call it chemistry. Call it experience. Call it what you will, but if the Nets beat the Houston Rockets tonight in Barclays Center, not only will they clinch a playoff spot, but they’ll set a franchise record with 14 straight home wins.

Yes, the team that started 10-21 and was hanging by a gossamer thread never let go of the rope, as Kidd likes to say.

“The chemistry is different,’’ said guard Shaun Livingston. “The system is different. And we like where we’re at.’’

Marcus Thornton provided an insightful look into the camaraderie on the Nets. He recalled the night in late February when he was traded to the Nets.

Thornton walked into the lobby of the team hotel in San Francisco and noticed Paul Pierce and Alan Anderson in the lobby. Thornton assumed they had no idea who he was.

But as he waited to check in, Anderson and Pierce approached.

“They came over and said hello, said they were excited I was on the team. I was like, Man, I’ve been in the league five years and nothing like that has ever happened to me,’’ said Thornton. “I knew right then that this is a great place to be, that this is what it’s like on a veteran team.’’

Anderson recalled the evening.

“All of us on this team have a story,’’ he said. “We’ve all been traded, played overseas, had to come back from injury, something. The only ones you’ve got is each other.

“So we wanted to show him some love, let him know he was welcomed with open arms. We knew who he was. We knew he could help us. But first we had to help him.’’

The Nets, 39-33 entering tonight’s game, learned early the importance of having each other’s back. After getting humbled 95-78 by the Chicago Bulls on Christmas Day, the Nets were booed off the Barclays Center court.

They would lose two of their next three to fall to 10-21 after a 113-92 loss in San Antonio.

For reasons the Nets can’t explain better than a New Year’s resolution, they refused to sink any lower. They pulled off a shocking 95-93 upset of the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Jan. 2.

“That was the game we started fighting for each other,’’ said Livingston. “That was the game we said, ‘Enough.’ ’’

It was the emotional equivalent of the ball dropping in Times Square.

“We believed in Jason Kidd and we saw things turn around, and we made a resolution on the first that we’re going to somehow find a way to turn it around,’’ said Paul Pierce. “And since then, we’ve been a growing ball club and we’ll continue to grow.’’

There have been countless other examples of the camaraderie that exists on this team.

When Jason Kidd celebrated his 41st birthday with a 107-104 OT win over the Mavericks in Dallas on March 23, the players administered a friendly birthday beatdown in the locker room.

Thornton said he got his. Jason Collins got his. Jorge Gutierrez got his.

“If you weren’t on this team before 2014, or you’re celebrating something big, you’re going to get your beatdown,’’ said one Nets player. “That’s when you become one of us.’’

With all due respect to the San Antonio Spurs, the benchmark for sustained success in the NBA, can anyone imagine the Spurs beating on Gregg Popovich after a big win?

The Nets have six players age 30 or older, and three 35 or older, but overcoming the early-season injuries and losing has given them a youthful appreciation for their current success.

“When you get in that kind of a hole,’’ said Mavs coach Rick Carlisle, “you're digging out all year, and so you are up against it all the time. And being up against it can bring a team closer and can kind of galvanize things."

Forget zinc, the Nets have been galvanized in precious metal.

When Gutierrez, who was with the Nets in training camp, signed his first 10-day contract and showed up at the team’s practice facility, the first welcome he received came from Kevin Garnett.

Garnett was getting treatment when he heard Gutierrez’s voice.

“Jorge! Get in here!’’ bellowed KG. “Good to see you, man.’’

Gutierrez was stunned.

“I spent less than two weeks with them in camp six months ago and he remembered me,’’ said Gutierrez. “He asked if I needed anything. How I was doing.

“There are a lot of egos in this league. But on this team, guys are friends first, then teammates. You talk to guys on other teams and you don’t hear that.’’

The Nets should hear quite a welcome tonight at Barclays Center. They can write themselves into franchise history with a 14th straight home win and secure a playoff berth.

As Thornton would say, “Buckle up.” There’s strange magic taking place in Brooklyn.

NETS GREEK REVIVAL – The best bonus of living in the metropolitan area, and there are many, is the diversity of cultures.

At Sunday’s 193rd Greek Independence Parade, families and friends celebrated their country’s independence from 400 years of Turkish Ottoman rule on March 25, 1821.

Lining the parade route up Fifth Ave. were four friends – two wearing No. 8 Deron Williams jerseys and two wearing the No. 34 jersey of Milwaukee Bucks rookie Giannis Antetokounmpo, a 6-9, 205-pound small forward who boasts a 7-3 wingspan.

“There is no player like him in the world,’’ said Nichalaos Papandreou, 32, of Astoria, who has been attending the parade since he was 14. “He needs to get a little stronger and improve his outside shot, then he will be one of the best in the world.’’

Antetokounmpo is averaging 6.9 points on 41.9-percent shooting and 4.4 rebounds in 24.3 minutes. In addition to his wingspan, he has a welcoming smile that has made him a fan favorite in Milwaukee – and in Astoria and Brooklyn.

Papandreou, who was wearing an Antetokounmpo jersey, said he became a Nets fan last season when the franchise moved to Brooklyn. His brother, Spiros, was wearing a Williams jersey.

“Can you imagine Deron throwing him alley-oop passes?’’ asked Spiros. “The Nets must trade for him.’’

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