EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Things still haven’t reached the point where they can fully burrow out of their hole like a groundhog, and forecast whether there will be six more weeks of frustrating times.
So instead of the Brooklyn Nets setting their sights on the chasing down the Toronto Raptors as they close in on the All-Star break, they have their pupils affixed on much smaller things.
There’s no magic numbers they’ve devised among themselves on how many victories they’re going to need to overtake the Atlantic Division leaders. With these split-personality, injured-plagued times of theirs, the Nets (23-26) aren’t in much of a position to think long and hard about playoff positioning, anyway.
“Truthfully, winning the division hasn’t even come up,” Paul Pierce said Tuesday. “So it’s all about growing, playing better basketball right now. I think first you’ve got to get over .500 before we start talking about winning the division. Then you can talk about raising your goals up.”
That’s why the next two games could be crucial for the Nets, given what lies down the road starting next week. Wednesday’s game against the Charlotte Bobcats was the Nets’ lone contest at the friendly confines of the Barclay Center until March 3, triggering the start of string of seven straight road games sandwiched around the All-Star break.
There’s a six-game, 12-day swing mostly comprised of stops on the other side of the Rockies, and the Nets also play the Bulls in Chicago on Thursday, no easy feat with the Nets’ struggling 2-9 mark in the second game of back-to-backs.
In short, they know they need to take care of business now.
“It’s huge for us at this point,” Joe Johnson said following a few practice warmup rounds for this weekend’s three-point contest in New Orleans. ” … These are two games that we desperately need because the second half of the season is important. This West Coast trip that we have coming up could be the tale of our season. So I think you only got 30-some-odd games left after the All-Star break and we got to come back prepared and ready.”
Deron Williams couldn’t downplay what gathering a little steam entering the break would do for the Nets’ psyche — and his, too. Williams is a three-time All-Star, a guy who was once considered neck-and-neck with Chris Paul as one of the league’s most dynamic playmaking point guards.
Reoccurring injuries to his ankles in particular have derailed things since the Nets moved to the other side of the Hudson River, relegating Williams to spectator status when it comes to All-Star games. Averaging 12.4 points and 5.6 assists, and shooting just 42 percent in his last eight games, he’s surely longing for the way he played when he last made the game in 2011-12, the Nets’ final season over in the Jersey swamps.
“I just want to get healthy again, man,” said Williams. “If I get healthy, I know what can happen. It’s been a frustrating two years for me injury-wise. It’s something I can’t really control. Hopefully I can figure it out this summer and then go from there.”