x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Brooklyn Nets are in form before entering the NBA’s global stage

Before a trip across the pond, Brooklyn's NBA squad is starting to come together at the right time, writes Jonathan Raymond.

During this month’s win streak, Kevin Garnett is being more selective with his shots and the Brooklyn Nets are benefiting. Nathaniel Butler / AFP
During this month’s win streak, Kevin Garnett is being more selective with his shots and the Brooklyn Nets are benefiting. Nathaniel Butler / AFP

One of the most intriguing games of the new year comes on Thursday, and it will tip off not in Indiana or Miami or Oklahoma City, but in London.

The Atlanta Hawks and Brooklyn Nets travel to England this week in the latest example of an American league looking to expand its reach by reaching across the Atlantic. It will be interesting to see how much interest, if any, Londoners will take in the match-up roughly 18 months after hosting the sport for the Olympics. But it will also be a worthwhile game, no matter the venue.

The Hawks are a decent team who mostly have played to expectations but find themselves as the third-best team in this year’s woeful Eastern Conference.

The Nets, conversely, were expected to be the team in Atlanta’s current position, near the top of the East. But they lost 21 of 31 games over the first two months, only to flip a switch once 2014 dawned; they are 5-1 since January 1, with victories over some of the league’s best teams: the Thunder, Warriors, Heat and these very Hawks.

What has gotten into the Nets? The same team who looked uncompetitive against Indiana and San Antonio in the last week of 2013 beat Oklahoma City on January 2. That ignited a five-game win streak that ended on Saturday with a 16-point thud of a loss to Detroit.

It might just be as simple as the team finally finding some cohesion.

Kevin Garnett, whose offensive game has deteriorated, has shifted almost exclusively into his familiar defensive stopper role, and the Nets have profited. During their 5-11 November, he averaged 8.8 shots per game, making only 35.9 per cent of them. In four games during this month’s win streak, he took only 5.3 shots per game but made 61.9 per cent. Basically, the veteran has become a more selective, efficient contributor.

Meanwhile, Joe Johnson has asserted himself and deferred less to his future Hall of Fame teammates, Paul Pierce and Garnett. After scoring 15.5 points on 13 shots a game in 2013, he has scored 17.3 on 15.8 in 2014, and 23.3 on 19.3 in the past four contests.

It is not easy to assemble talent the way the Nets ambitiously did. But after a very bumpy beginning, they are starting to gel.

It is too late to match Indiana and Miami, the way some thought they might. But there is still a place near the top of the East they could still take, and the Hawks have it.

Nets management, from the Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov on down, have said they want the team to be a global brand. In London, they have a chance to take a step in that direction.

jraymond@thenational.ae

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