The Other Side: New Jersey Nets
It's been only one month, but the New Jersey Nets sure don't look like a team destined to be the worst in the Eastern Conference, as so many -- including me -- predicted before the season. With the Nets trading Richard Jefferson to Milwaukee for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons last summer, they looked like a rebuilding team gearing up for the LeBron Sweepstakes in 2010 -- especially after they sent Jason Kidd to Dallas earlier in the year. But even while they playfully wink at LeBron James, the Nets (9-7) actually look like a team that plans on being somewhat competitive the next two seasons.
When the Nets beat the Wizards 95-85 in the season opener on Oct. 29, it looked like it was a terrible loss for Eddie Jordan's crew -- but it was actually a sign of things to come for both teams. The Wizards have struggled against almost every squad they've faced, going winless in 11 games against Eastern Conference teams, and Ed Tapscott replaced Jordan. But despite an incredibly young and flimsy roster, the Nets haven't looked anything like a bottom feeder in their past nine games, as they have gone 7-2. The Nets have won three in a row overall.
Here are some other things you should know about the Nets heading into tonight's game at Izod Center:
1. Devin Harris Is Blowing Up
The reason for the Nets' incredible turnaround begins and ends with point guard Devin Harris, who is trying to enter the discussion of the league's elite point guards. He has returned after missing three games -- all Nets losses -- because of a sprained left ankle and New Jersey is 8-2 in the last 10 games Harris has played.
Over that span, Harris is averaging 29.2 points, and recorded the first six 30-point games of his career. He recently completed the best weekend of his career, scoring 34 points in a win over Utah on Saturday and a career-high 47 points in a win over Phoenix . His confidence is probably the result of being more positive.
I did pick Harris to have a breakout season, so I'm .500 with my Nets predictions so far.
2. Vince Carter Is Alive
He might not be the Vinsanity-Half Man/Half Amazing force who makes nightly visits to SportsCenter highlight reels, but at least Carter doesn't look like he's coasting this season, as he appeared to be so much last season. Carter entered last night ranked eighth in the NBA in scoring at 23.8 points per game. He also had a flashback moment two weeks ago against his former team Toronto when he had 39 points and 9 rebounds in the regular season game of the year. He quietly had 28 points in the win over the Suns, and is pleased that Harris's arrival means that he doesn't have to carry the team by himself this season.
Carter and Harris are the highest scoring backcourt in the NBA at 49.1 points per game. It's the first time in franchise history that the Nets had two of the top 10 scorers in the league. They also have the fifth-highest combined assist average of any backcourt at 11.3 dimes a game.
3. One Hundred Is The Magic Number
The Nets rank fifth in the NBA in scoring at 101.9 points per game and they are 8-0 this season when they reach triple digits -- meaning that they are 1-7 when they are held below 100 (that one win came at Verizon Center). On the other side of the ball, the Wizards are facing one of the four teams in the league giving up more points.
New Jersey ranks 27th in opponents' points allowed at 104.3 per game (The Wizards are 26th at 103.2). Borrowing a line from the Post's Mike Wise, "When does the Princeton defense kick in?" The Wizards are one of five teams that failed to score at least 100 points against New Jersey this season. Sacramento is the only other team to lose in that situation.
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