The notion of the Brooklyn Nets this year, in principle, in execution, has been an experimental one. Theoretically speaking, a team with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace, and Brook Lopez should be good, but there were chemistry issues early, along with uninspired play and a nagging fear that the Nets had hitched their horse to the wrong superstar(s). Then Avery Johnson — who had stuck with this team through the lame duck final New Jersey years — was fired and, suddenly, as so often happens in the NBA ... everything was different. The Nets might be the best team in the NBA at this very second. The experiment is starting to pay off.
The Nets beat the Raptors 113–106 last night in front of a loud-but-not-raucous Barclays Center, thanks to terrific games from Williams (21 points, 7 assists) and Joe Johnson (21 points, 5 assists) and some inspired bench play. The overpowering backcourt that the Nets thought they had but haven't for much of this season is starting to come together: Williams has never played with a guard of Johnson's skills, and Johnson hasn't had a creator like Williams since Steve Nash (which was an entirely different era and system all together). Everyone's playing like they have all the confidence in the world. Whether that's P.J. Carlesimo's lighter touch, or a softer schedule, or players' natural talent finally coming through, the Nets have won seven in a row, still haven't lost in 2013 and are 9-1 under Carlesimo.
What's impressive is that the bench is starting to pull its weight, too. With Gerald Wallace out last night, the Nets actually turned more to Mirza Teletovic. Teletovic hasn't done much this season, averaging just more than three points a game, and he'd only hit twelve three-pointers all year. He was the big mystery signing of the off-season — they're paying him nearly $10 million over the next three years — but he never fit in Avery Johnson's rotation and seemed to be a bust that would keep on giving. But he looked like a key component last night, draining three three-pointers and dishing out three assists, looking like the stretch four he was supposed to be all along.
The Nets are playing at a faster pace under Carlesimo than they did under Johnson, and, obviously, it's working. The schedule's about to get a lot tougher -- a home-and-home beginning tonight with Atlanta (a fanbase that's going to boo the bejeezuses out of Joe Johnson tonight), a trip to the Garden for the final meeting with the Knicks this year on Monday, then a three game Western Conference trip (Minnesota, Memphis and Houston) -- and eventually, they will lose in 2013. But right now they're only a game-and-a-half behind the Knicks for the Atlantic Division lead and looking, for all the world, like the team everyone dreamed they'd be. Come playoff time, this city is going to be nuts.