Brooklyn embarks on season-defining seven-game trip
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Nets continued to fill up on home cooking Wednesday night at the Barclays Center, rolling to a 105-89 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats behind 25 points from hot-shooting Paul Pierce before a beat-the-latest-winter-storm crowd of 16,862 in Downtown Brooklyn.
It was the last home-cooked meal our borough's NBA team will enjoy for the next three weeks.
With the circus slated to take over Barclays later this month, Brooklyn will embark on a seven-game, 18-day road trip through Chicago, Utah, Golden State, Los Angeles, Portland, Denver and Milwaukee.
Having dominated on their herringbone-designed hardwood since the turn of the New Year, the Nets, winners of 11 of their last 13 at Barclays, are well aware that their drive to the playoffs could rely heavily on how well they fare away from home from now until March 3.
"This is a moment of truth for us," admitted Pierce, who hit all but two of his 11 field-goal attempts Wednesday, including a perfect 5-of-5 effort from 3-point range.
"Once you get past the All-Star break, it's a stretch run,” he added. “We have 31 games left, and there is going to be a lot of [playoff] positioning going on."
After visiting the Bulls on Thursday night, the Nets will go their separate ways during the annual All-Star break, with shooting guard Joe Johnson representing Brooklyn on the Eastern Conference squad in New Orleans and rookie Mason Plumlee participating in the Rising Stars Challenge.
As for the rest of the team, the time off will provide an opportunity to rest up for the rough road ahead.
Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry – all of whom are well into their 30s -- and slightly hobbled $98 million point guard Deron Williams could all use the hiatus to recharge for what head coach Jason Kidd hopes will be a strong second half.
"A veteran ball club understands that the games right before the break are important because you're planning vacations, or planning to go to All-Star weekend, and sometimes the game becomes secondary,'' Kidd said.
The Bulls, who knocked the Nets out of the playoffs in the opening round last season and beat them at Barclays on Christmas Day, are 1 1/2 games ahead of Brooklyn for the coveted fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
The Nets remain three games behind first-place Toronto in the Atlantic Division standings as they continue to pursue a potential No. 3 seed.
"The key is to gather some momentum going into the All-Star break," Pierce said.
Building momentum following the break will be even more important.
Last season, Brooklyn went 5-3 on its Midwest/West Coast trip while the circus was in town.
The impressive run helped the Nets nail down the fourth seed in the East en route to a franchise-record 23 road victories during their inaugural campaign in our fair borough.
After a 10-21 start to Season Two in Brooklyn, the Nets have finally found the form that made them a preseason favorite to win the Atlantic and challenge defending two-time NBA champion Miami and Eastern Conference-leading Indiana for a trip to the Finals.
Brooklyn is 14-5 since the start of 2014, but is just 8-15 away from Barclays overall this season.
The road back to the playoffs will be an extremely difficult one to navigate if the Nets don’t find a way to reverse their road fortunes during the next few weeks.
“You [have to] know what’s coming and expect it to be tough,” Pierce noted. “We haven’t been a great road team. … We feel like there’s a lot of winnable games for us. There’s gonna be some dogfights and we feel like we can come out over .500 after this trip.”
At 24-26, the Nets need to go at least 5-2 on their elongated trek through several time zones for Pierce’s sentiments regarding the break-even mark to take hold.
Brooklyn does boast a 9-9 mark against Western Conference opponents this season, making it one of only three teams from the East to be at .500 or better in interconference competition.
But Pierce is well aware that the past is simply prologue.
The Nets, if they are to rise back to prominence in the East, must approach the rest of the season with the tenacity that seemed to be lacking during their Game 7 loss to Chicago in the playoffs earlier this year.
“Every game is crucial at this point,” Pierce insisted. “It can mean you going from the eighth seed all the way to the three seed. So each and every week, you’re going to see the standings moving up and down, and every game is important for us.”
Nothing But Net: G Williams had 13 points and seven assists in a team-high 28 minutes Wednesday as Kidd rested the majority of his veteran players in the hopes of reversing the Nets’ trend of dropping the second half of back-to-backs. The Nets are 9-3 this season in the first half of back-to-backs, but just 2-9 on the tail end. ... F Andrei Kirilenko ripped down a season-high eight rebounds in only 18 minutes off the bench against Charlotte. … Brooklyn is only one-half game behind Atlanta and Washington for fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings. … The Nets’ turnaround at Barclays has been remarkable considering the fact that they lost nine of their first 14 at home. …. The Nets will host Chicago in their return to Barclays on March 3.