BOSTON -- When the Brooklyn Nets face the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on Monday night, they'll be taking the floor a month to the day since they snapped an eight-game losing streak with an overtime win against the Toronto Raptors.
In that month, a season has changed, and it seems a long-awaited turning point for the franchise has been reached. Over the last 15 games beginning with that Dec. 7 victory, the Nets are tied with the Indiana Pacers and San Antonio Spurs for the NBA's best record, with a 12-3 mark.
They've hit 20 wins, with a 20-21 record right at the midpoint of the 82-game schedule, two years after winning 20 games the entirety of coach Kenny Atkinson's first season. With wins at Memphis and Chicago on the first two games of this road trip, they're an even 10-10 away from Barclays Center.
They've done this while working around injuries, demonstrating the solid foundation of the roster, program and schemes put together by GM Sean Marks and Atkinson.
"We don't watch nearly as much film now as we did before during the eight-game streak because guys have now held each other accountable," said Jared Dudley, "It's not even the coaches calling people out, it's players calling other players out when it's a missed assignment, if it's DC not putting a hand up on the shooter here today. They're already hearing it from the bench. I would say guys finally looked themselves in the mirrors, bought in, and it all started clicking at the right time."
"We've been playing at a good level," said D'Angelo Russell. "Just keep building on it. Taking care of what we're supposed to take care of and giving ourselves a chance when the numbers aren't in our favor. Our confidence is high, so I don't think anybody can tell us anything else."
NO PEEKING AT THE STANDINGS
Friday's win at Memphis moved the Nets into the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference standings, and Sunday's win kept them there. It's just not something they're tracking day-to-day.
"Oh, we're seventh now?" said Jarrett Allen. "That's pretty nice."
With Miami's loss on Sunday, Brooklyn did move with a half-game of sixth place and is actually a game up on the 19-win Heat in the win column. Like Allen, Russell wasn't going out of his way to keep track either.
"You tell me so I don't really have to look," said Russell. "You said we're seventh? I know we got Boston tomorrow. That's all I really know. So, I mean, it's good to hear, it's good to talk about. Got a lot of games left."
D'ANGELO & DINWIDDIE & SHABAZZ
The Nets continued to employ the three-guard lineup they've found success with since Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was injured and they turned to guard depth to fill those minutes with Shabazz Napier.
Over the last three games, that group is plus-16 in 19 minutes on the floor together.
"We have so much speed," said Kenny Atkinson. "What I'm surprised about is how seamless it is. No one's, you'd think you'd have three guards running back to try to get the ball, 'listen, I'm the point guard.' That's kind of our ideal scenario, where we have multiple ball-handlers and they can play different positions. They've kind of embraced that and they seem like they're enjoying it. It's been good for us."
They've played most of those minutes with DeMarre Carroll at the 4 spot. While the veteran stretched his string of double-figure scoring games to six with Sunday's 20-point outing at Chicago, he's really opened up from 3-point range over his last four games, shooting 15-for-28 over that stretch.
"Maybe because I'm playing the 4 now," said Carroll. "I think he finally trusts me a the 4 a little bit, so he throws me out there with those guys because I can space the floor and I can also try to get down there and at least bang with them a little bit. But at the end of the day, it's just about the trust factor, and I feel like Kenny finally trusts me at the 4 a little bit."
Meanwhile, Napier has scored in double figures in his last five games, including matching his career high with 32 points against Milwaukee a week ago. And Russell, with Sunday's 28-point game, has strung together four 20-point games, matching a career best.
"You've got to give guys like D'Lo and Spence and Shabazz, those guys really carry the weight for us," said Carroll. "I feel like D'Angelo has just taken it to a whole 'nother level. He's getting everybody involved. He's scoring the ball when he needs to. He's got a complete game right now and I think that's what we need from him in order to go far and go deep, like we want to."
RUNNING ON AUTOMATIC
The Chicago Bulls were still hanging around within nine points when the fourth quarter opened Sunday afternoon, but the Nets quickly put the game away decisively with a 12-3 run to open the quarter. Back-to-back threes from Shabazz Napier and DeMarre Carroll put the Nets up 100-85 with under nine minutes to go.
Over the last month, the Nets are fourth in the NBA in offensive rating (113.4) and second in effective field goal percentage (55.8). They're also fourth in points per game (115.3).
"We're getting close to reaching the principles and the ideal type of basketball we want to play," said Kenny Atkinson. "That takes time. We've been at it a long time. Myself, almost three seasons. I sat back in my seat today because it was running by itself and they knew what to do and they were talking. That's the ideal scenario for a coach."
"That's a heck of a compliment for just us as players," said D'Angelo Russell. "Especially when you've got three guards out there. Coach calls them the quarterbacks, so we consider ourselves the best three quarterbacks in the NFL. We feel like we all can drive that. So for him to sit back and give us that leash to do that, I think everybody's trying to take advantage of that."
SHOUTOUT FROM DEMARRE CARROLL
DeMarre Carroll scored 20 points for the second consecutive game on Sunday, and is now averaging 17.3 on 54.2 percent shooting -- including 47.2 from 3-point range -- over his last six games. He's also averaging 29.7 minutes per game in that stretch, playing 22.8 minutes in his first 24 games through Dec. 23 after coming back from angle surgery.
After Sunday's game, he passed on the credit to assistant coach Jordan Ott.
"I think the biggest thing is just my body finally caught up with my game," said Carroll. "Just putting in the work. Just keep pushing through. It's a process, but at the end of the day my teammates, coaching staff, especially J.O, Jordan, one of our assistant coaches, he really helped me. He helped me day-in, day-out, sending me messages, sending me videos, just doing little things for me. My hat goes off to Jordan, because I don't think I'd be here without him."
ABOUT THE CELTICS
The Celtics are two spots ahead of the Nets in the standings, with a 23-15 record after Friday's win against Dallas. Kyrie Irving is expected to return Monday after missing Boston's last two games. The Celtics have the NBA's No. 2 net rating (5.9) on the strength of their No. 4 defense (104.5). Offensively, they're 10th (110.4), one spot ahead of the Nets (110.2). Irving leads the Celtics with 23.1 points and 6.6 assists per game.