It’s go time for the Brooklyn Nets.
Time to go on a win streak. Time to move up in the Eastern Conference standings. Time to prove that this team - assembled to make a run at an NBA championship – is a serious contender to do so.
Slowly but surely the Nets have gotten better as the season has progressed.
They got deeper at the NBA trade deadline, adding mercurial scorer Marcus Thornton in a trade with the Sacramento Kings, and signing veteran center Jason Collins.
Thornton, 26, could give the Nets the offensive spark off the bench they never really got from Jason Terry, who was slowed by off-season left knee surgery; he scored 42 points in a game against the defensive-minded Indiana Pacers earlier this season.
Collins, 35, is a 7-foot, 255-pound defensive specialist who should make the Nets stronger on the glass and in the paint. Collins will not hesitate to send a message if opponents are getting to the rim too easily against the Nets.
With Deron Williams and Paul Pierce playing their best ball of the season, and the additions of Thornton and Collins, the Nets are ready to make a March move.
They play nine of 16 games this month in Barclays Center. The Nets are 16-11 in the basketball cathedral on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
They opened the month in Milwaukee, one of the worst teams in the NBA. It’s a ‘W’ on paper but games are played on the court and the game against the Bucks was the last on a six-game road swing.
The Nets returned to Barclays Center for the first time since Feb. 12 when they hosted the Chicago Bulls on March 3. The Bulls had beaten the Nets twice in identical fashion, smothering them 95-78 on Christmas Day and 92-76 in the final game before the All-Star break.
The Bulls are exactly the type of the team the Nets are hoping Collins can help combat. Chicago’s trio of Joakim Noah, Carlos Boozer, and Taj Gibson is as punishing a frontcourt as there is in the league.
The Memphis Grizzlies will present a similar challenge on March 5. Center Marc Gasol is one of the more rugged big men in the league.
The Nets then head to Boston for a March 7 game against the Celtics. It is the second time the Nets will play in Boston this season, meaning it should not be as emotionally daunting on Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who helped lead the Celtics to an NBA title.
Sacramento comes to Barclays Center on March 9 in what will be a reunion for Thornton, Terry and Reggie Evans. Terry and Evans, two clubhouse favorites, were traded to the Kings for Thornton.
Nets fans certainly want to circle March 11 on the calendar. The Toronto Raptors come to town in what could be a battle for first place in the Atlantic Division.
The Raptors have been the surprise team in the division, holding first place for much of the season. The teams exchanged wins and then Toronto edged the Nets on a late turnover, 104-103, on Jan. 27 in Barclays Center.
The Nets will have a chance to gauge how far they’ve come when they play at Miami on March 12. The Heat are the defending back-to-back NBA champs and they are the standard.
Brooklyn can’t afford a letdown when it plays at Washington on the Ides of March. The Wizards, led by John Wall, are a much-improved team and are fighting for a playoff spot.
Phoenix visits Barclays Center on March 17. The Suns, the surprise team in the NBA, will be looking for payback. The Nets edged the Suns 100-98 in overtime when Joe Johnson hit a floater.
The Eastern Conference playoff picture will be in the spotlight on March 19 when the Nets host the Charlotte Bobcats. Charlotte, led by Kemba Walker of the Bronx, also is in the playoff hunt.
The Celtics come to Barclays Center on March 21. Pierce and Garnett will have the juices flowing.
The Nets go back on the road for a difficult swing; they open at Dallas on March 23. The Mavs and Suns have been fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the West, and the Mavs are led by the classy Dirk Nowitzki.
From Dallas the Nets head to New Orleans. The Pelicans have one of the most intriguing young players in the NBA in Anthony Davis, a center with point guard skills.
The Bobcats get the Nets in Charlotte on March 26. The game could be crucial to both teams’ playoff chances. They’re no longer your father’s Bobcats.
The Nets finish the month in Brooklyn. Cleveland comes to town on March 28. The Nets dropped their opening game of the season in Cleveland. The Cavs, lacking the leadership the Nets have in their locker room, have gone south in ugly fashion.
March will go out like a lion, not a lamb, when Minnesota comes to Brooklyn. There aren’t many big men with the skill set of Kevin Love. He is a tenacious rebounder and inside presence but can also step back and hit the 3.
By the end of March the Nets can be firmly established as a playoff team. Better keep that late-April and May schedule clear. It’s go time.