BROOKLYN - By Lenn Robbins - The ball dropped in Times Square. The temperature dropped. The stock market dropped.
The Brooklyn Nets rose.
Just when it seemed is if the 2013-14 season was going to be a colossal failure, the Nets began the New Year by winning 10-of-11 games, putting themselves squarely in the playoff picture.
Coach Jason Kidd went to a 'small-ball' lineup to compensate for the absence of center Brook Lopez, who was lost for the season with a broken bone in his right foot. Kevin Garnett moved from power forward to center. Paul Pierce moved from small forward to stretch forward.
And Kidd went with three guards – moving Joe Johnson to small forward and moving Shaun Livingston into the starting lineup alongside Deron Williams, who has more freedom to score.
When Williams was lost for the third time this season with a sprained left ankle, the Nets didn't miss a beat. Alan Anderson replaced Williams in the starting lineup and the Nets rolled.
Williams missed five games before coming off the bench against the Knicks. As the end of January approached, Williams was still coming off the bench, giving the Nets a boost few NBA teams can match.
Now that the team has apparently turned the corner, February offers the Nets a chance to see if they can be one of the NBA's elite teams. The first test comes soon enough.
The Nets open February with a game in Indiana against the Pacers, the team with the best record in the Eastern Conference. Then comes a game against Philadelphia before the schedule goes from challenging to grueling and culminates with the longest and most demanding road trip of the season.
Before they hit the road, the Nets host the Western Conference champion San Antonio Spurs on Feb. 6th and then head to Detroit to face the big and strong Pistons. The Nets will have to find a way to contain Tim Duncan, Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe.
After home games against New Orleans and Charlotte, the Nets play the first of seven straight road games when they play the Bulls in Chicago on Feb. 13th. The Bulls, having already lost guard Derrick Rose for the season with a knee injury, have traded away swingman Luol Deng, taking them out of contention to win the Eastern Conference.
The move could have crushed the Bulls but they have stayed competitive and remain a tough, defensive team. The Nets return home after that game, which coincides with the start of the NBA All-Star break.
Barclays Center will host the Slam Dunk and 3 Point Shooting competitions. Mirza Teletovic might get an invite to participate in the 3-point contest but the Nets will need all the rest they can get.
Come Feb. 18th, the Nets depart on a 10-day, six-game, West Coast swing that begins in Utah, culminates in Milwaukee, with stops in California, Oregon and Colorado.
The Jazz are floundering this season but it's always difficult to win in EnergySolutions Arena. The road gets harder.
The Nets head to Golden State for a game against the sweet-shooting Warriors. Former St. John's star and NYC native Mark Jackson has the Warriors playing terrific basketball.
The Nets will have to turn in one of their best defensive efforts of the season to have a chance. But one of the unforeseen advantages of the small-ball lineup has been a quicker and longer defensive team.
The Nets then have one of their more intriguing back-to-back games of the season, flying from San Francisco to L.A. to take on the Lakers. Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest players in NBA history, has been out with a broken leg but he could be back by Feb. 23rd.
Then, in a Rand McNally head-scratcher (doesn't anyone look at a map anymore?), the Nets have to fly back north to Portland to take on the TrailBlazers, one of the best young teams in the NBA.
This will be a key test for the Nets, who got scorched by the Trailblazers, 108-98 in Barclays Center. Portland outscored the Nets 52-35 in the second half.
Having found a GPS that works, the Nets face one of their toughest back-to-backs of the season. They go from Portland, a classic Western Conference team that likes to score, to Denver, to face another classic Western Conference team. The Nets can't get into shootouts two nights in a row.
The schedule makers did throw the Nets one bone. They finish the road trip in Milwaukee against a Bucks team that is among the worst in the league.
But before the Nets get to Brewtown, the six previous teams they will face on this trip were a combined 136-131 in late January. With Bryant and Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook expected back, and the only chance at true love could come on Valentine's Day.