Watch Out: The New Jersey Nets Are Red Hot

By Eric Williams
Updated: April 5, 2006

PHILADELPHIA—Don’t look now, but the New Jersey Nets are in the midst of an impressive 12-game winning streak that has officially served notice to the top two teams in the eastern conference – the Detroit Pistons and Miami Heat – that the Nets are going to be a force to be reckoned with come playoff time.

With Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter, the Nets obviously have more than enough offense to compete with the “Big Two,” but surprisingly, the Nets have been winning by displaying a stingy defense that ranks seventh in the league in field-goal percentage defense at 44 percent and sixth in points allowed at just fewer than 93 per game.

Now, when the Nets acquired the high-flying Carter from the Toronto Raptors at last season’s trade deadline, most people expected the Nets to be a transition team that could score bunches of points on waves of fastbreaks with Kidd passing to Carter or Jefferson on either wing for easy lay-ups or highlight reel dunks.

Barring Carter’s frequent appearances on ESPN’s “Sportscenter” for his numerous aerial acrobatics, the Nets are far from the high-octane offense that many people thought they would be.

However, the Nets have become one of the best half-court teams in the league and have more capable players than just Carter, Kidd and Jefferson.

Forward, Nenad Kristic is a burgeoning star and center Jason Collins is more than competent in the low post. Kristic’s ability to hit the spot-up jump shot out to 20-feet has opened things up for the Nets star trio by pulling the forward defending Kristic out of the paint area to the perimeter – and when Kidd does drive to the basket – the man defending Kristic can slide over to help if he wants to – at the risk of leaving the European forward wide open for an easy jumper.

Collins is an intelligent big body who plays above average defense and can also finish around the basket and uses his fouls wisely. Is he capable of stopping Shaquille O’Neal?

Of course not!

But Collins is more than capable of holding his own well enough to keep the Nets in any game.

Underrated head coach, Lawrence Frank, has also been absolutely masterful in molding his team to play to its strengths. I know he won’t get much consideration for the coach of the year award, but the job he has done since taking over as the head coach nearly three seasons ago, has been nothing short of amazing.

Are the Nets the odds o favorite to win the east?

No. I still believe the Pistons will overcome any and all challengers to their two-year reign as eastern conference champions. However, I do believe that the Nets are capable of beating any other team in the east, excluding the Miami Heat as well.

Once the Nets get one or two more serviceable big men, I think they will be able to compete with the Pistons and Heat in the rebounding department. Until then, I think they will be very good also-rans who will continue to come up just a bit short.

One other thing that bothers me is the fact that the Nets’ best player, Carter, has never exerted his immense physical gifts into on-court mental prowess. You know, willing his team to wins or just taking over and refusing to let his team lose. Throughout his career, Carter has been content to be a very good scorer who gets his and nothing else. Until Carter raises the level of his mental toughness, I think that will keep the Nets in neutral as well.

Now, I can’t be sure of exactly what’s going to happen come playoff time, but I do know that every team in the east, including Detroit and Miami should have one eye on the New Jersey Nets. Lest we not forget, Jason Kidd, one of the best leaders in the league, has led this team to two consecutive championship appearances – and while they may not have won one yet, as the saying goes, the third time is the charm isn’t it?