Brook Lopez hasn’t experienced a win streak like this since college, and he’s right smack in the middle of it all.
It’s not only because he’s the Nets' center, but also because he’s making the plays he didn’t make earlier in the season and carrying himself much differently. Nets coach Avery Johnson keeps talking about how Lopez is doing things he hasn’t seen him do before, such as asking to go back in games, talking during huddles and demanding the ball more.
Success breeds confidence, and Lopez and the Nets’ confidence is at an all-time high together. After his seventh straight game with at least 20 points -- the Nets’ fifth consecutive win -- Lopez was asked if anyone should be surprised that they just beat the Celtics.
“We’re improving every game,” he said. “We’ll just continue.”
So we shouldn’t be surprised?
“I think we’re rolling,” Lopez said. “I wasn’t surprised.”
There you have it. That’s the difference between Lopez and the Nets now as opposed to earlier this season, pre-Deron Williams. There’s a belief that wasn’t there, a swagger, and it’s legitimate.
Earlier this season, after a good win or a good performance, some Nets talked about having a swagger and making a playoff run, but then would be crushed the next game or play with no energy. Reality slapped them hard in the face. Now, the Nets are talking and playing the part, starting with Lopez, but everyone is contributing in a major way, and they have to be taken seriously.
This is a huge stretch for the Nets coming up. How they do here will determine whether they have a real shot at the postseason. Of course, they need help from other teams, and the Knicks did themselves or the Nets no favors by dropping the last two games to the Pacers. The Nets sit six games out with 17 to play.
But you know the Nets are going to say they can only worry about themselves. It's true, too, because if they don’t win, it doesn’t matter what the Pacers, Bobcats, Bucks or Pistons do.
The Nets have a tough game against the Chicago Bulls, who have been rolling themselves with 20 wins in their last 24 games. After that, the Nets are in Milwaukee and Washington, home for Indiana and at Cleveland. Those four (in five nights) are gettable games. With Williams on board and the Nets playing the way they are, you know they and their fans expect to win.
Several Nets were asked if this streak means they’re turning the corner.
“I think it shows we’re growing every game,” Lopez said.
“I think so,” said Kris Humphries, another huge member of the surge with averages of 16.8 points and 16.8 rebounds during the five-game winning streak. “It’s five in a row, my man. Five in a row. It’s definitely something we haven’t done this year, so it says something. Whatever you guys want to say, it says. Run with it.”
You can’t necessarily argue with either, but Johnson’s answer to the question was very good and true.
“We’re approaching the corner,” Johnson said.
He’s right. The Nets haven’t turned the corner. They’re still just a 22-win team, still 21 games below .500. But you definitely see improvement in all areas, including the endgame, which is a major step for them. Over this five-game winning streak -- and remember, Williams missed two of them for the birth of his son last week -- the Nets have outscored the opposition 127-106 in the fourth quarter and 35-30 in overtime. Against Boston, Lopez put the Nets up four with 64 seconds left and Williams hit a 3-pointer thirty seconds later to ice the game.
“Brook is closing games better compared to the first half of the year,” Johnson said. “Deron is a closer. That’s two areas we’ve made significant improvements.”
The Nets have made significant improvements in other areas, too. Execution is huge, but so is confidence. They believe in themselves, and it shows.
Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)