By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Maybe this will be a month-to-month thing with the Brooklyn Nets.
After taking the NBA by storm in November, then forcing the firing of head coach Avery Johnson with a dismal December to forget, our borough's first major pro sports franchise since the Dodgers fled for Los Angeles in 1957 appears to be back on track since the turn of the new year.
Johnson went from November's Eastern Conference Coach of the Month to unemployed by late December as Brooklyn's 11-4 start dissipated into a 14-14 mess of mediocrity. The Nets' $100 million point guard Deron Williams cited his inability to function on all cylinders in Johnson's offense, forward Gerald Wallace noted his teammates' inability to shake off bad stretches during games and owner Mikhail Prokhorov left a ski vacation to inform the first coach in Brooklyn Nets history that his services were no longer needed.
Downtown's new darlings were suddenly morphing into the dreaded "Same Old Nets", slipping precipitiously in the Atlantic Division standings and displaying the defeatism that led to five consecutive non-playoff campaigns.
Carlesimo took "interim" command of the slowly sinking $330 million ship on Dec. 28 as rumors began circulating that Prokhorov and general manager Billy King may be on the market for a permanent leader, such as 11-time NBA championship coach Phil Jackson, either of the out-of-work Van Gundys, or even Williams' commander-in-chief during his days in Utah, Jerry Sloan.
Instead, the Nets appear intent on elevatating Carlesimo to full-time status; or at least giving him a shot at January's Coach of the Month honor, something the 63-year-old Scranton, Pa., native may be wary of receiving in wake of what happened to Johnson after he grabbed the award.
"It's been a pretty challenging situation," admitted Carlesimo, who has guided his team to an inspiring 6-1 run, including its current four-game winning streak, with his unflinching sage leadership. "They've made it look like it wasn't as difficult as it was."
Ever the loyalist, but every bit as much the basketball junkie, Carlesimo was brutally honest regarding his conflicted emotions after agreeing to take the job.
"It's a very uneasy feeling," he noted before leading the Nets to a 97-81 rout of the dreadful Charlotte Bobcats at the Barclays Center in his head coaching debut with Brooklyn. "It's a job that in one sense is a great opportunity and it's such a privilege. There are only 30 jobs in this league. It's such a privilege to be one of those 30 guys, and yet at the same time, with the circumstances, the way they happened, it's something you just don't feel good about."
Williams' improved all-around play, the return of Brook Lopez to November form, Reggie Evans' relentless rebounding, Joe Johnson's penchant for clutch shooting and the reserves' "Bench Mob" mentality have doubtlessly eased Carlesimo's pain over the past three weeks.
After knocking off the Bobcats and Cleveland Cavaliers in their first two games under their new coach, the Nets suffered an embarrassing 31-point loss in San Antonio on New Year's Eve -- a performance Carlesimo reffered to as "unacceptable."
Rather than climbing back into a sink hole, Brooklyn responded with four consecutive wins to open 2013, including Tuesday night's 109-89 rout in Philadelphia, which came a few hours after news broke that backup center Andray Blatche had been questioned in regard to an alleged sexual assault in his hotel suite at the Four Seasons earlier that morning.
"NBA players are resilient," Carlesimo said following the win, which paved the way for a happy homecoming -- legal matters not withstanding -- as the Nets prepare to host Phoenix, Indiana and Toronto over the next five days on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
The Nets (20-15) are 3 1/3 games behind the first-place Knicks in the Atlantic Division and fifth overall in the Eastern Conference following their early January resurgence under Carlesimo.
"We stick together as a team," Williams said, though one could easily question how "together" the Nets remained during the final days of the short-lived Johnson era in Brooklyn.
With 47 games to go on the 82-game grind of an NBA docket, the Nets are back to above respectability and eager to once again pronounce themselves legitimate postseason contenders. The only remaining question is whether it's for good this time.
“The coach can’t change people,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich noted after the Nets' visit to San Antonio. “They are who they are, no matter what team you’re talking about. But a coach can be observant and put his team in situations, both on and off the court where some of that can develop, some of the camaraderie sorts of things. But you can’t change people."
On the local college hoops scene, the Bulldogs of Brooklyn College nearly erased a 15-point deficit over the final 11 minutes Tuesday night before suffering a 74-63 defeat to CUNYAC rival Baruch in Manhattan.
Senior Jeffrey Noel scored a game-high 19 points off the bench for BC, which dropped to 3-7 overall and 2-3 against league opponents.
The Bulldogs will return to the hardwood Saturday afternoon against visiting John Jay at the West Quad Center.
The BC ladies absorbed a 67-54 defeat to Baruch earlier Tuesday despite 17 points and seven rebounds from Bishop Ford alum Vanessa D'Ambrosi.
The Lady Bulldogs (8-4, 3-2 CUNYAC) will also face Baruch at home on Saturday.
Over at NYU-Poly, the Lady Jays bounced back from Monday night's dismal performance against the Sage Colleges by blowing past Mount Saint Vincent, 59-50, in Riverdale, N.Y. on Wednesday.
Freshman sensation Alyssa D'Apice scored a game-high 14 points and sophomore Catherine Thompson added 13 for the Lady Jays, who improved to 4-6, including 1-1 in Skyline Conference action.
The NYU-Poly men weren't as fortunate against Mount Saint Vincent, suffering an 80-56 loss to the Dolphins.
Freshman Brendan Gallagher scored 11 points and sophomore Tom Fabian added 10 for the Jays, who will travel to Mount Saint Mary College on Saturday for a men's-women's doubleheader against their Skyline Conference foes.