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NBA AM: Can The Brooklyn Nets Crash The Party?

Indiana and Miami seemed destined for the Eastern Conference Finals, but can Brooklyn crash the party?

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Despite Slow Start, The Brooklyn Nets Have Arrived

The Brooklyn Nets entered the season with the highest payroll in the league, with close to $103 million in salary commitments. This figure doesn’t include the additional $80 million in luxury tax penalties the franchise is on the hook pay at the end of the season. Needless to say, with such a financial investment there were title aspirations, or at the very least contention hopes, in Brooklyn heading into the 2014 campaign.

But the title aspirations weren’t only caused by the influx of payroll. The team made plenty of splashy moves on paper last summer which created a now or never type of fervor.

The team thought outside of the box by hiring future Hall of Famer Jason Kidd to become its head coach. The Nets then acquired future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in an offseason trade and signed Andrei Kirilenko in free agency.

On paper, the Nets looked fierce with six former All-Star players in Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, Garnett, Joe Johnson, Kirilenko  and Paul Pierce at the top of the rotation.

However the season started off rocky. Very rocky.

Brooklyn stumbled out of the gates to a 10-20 record at the end of December. Numerous negative reports began surfacing regarding Kidd’s ability as a coach, questioning whether he had lost control of his unit in his inaugural campaign. Lopez, one of the league’s best centers, was lost for the season after logging just 17 appearances.  Garnett, one of the league’s most consistent performers for nearly two decades, seemingly got old overnight. Williams also struggled early while battling numerous leg ailments.

But the grueling 82 game NBA regular season is a marathon, not a sprint. Since January 1, Brooklyn has compiled a stellar 33-13 (.717) record. Further, outside of the San Antonio Spurs and the Los Angeles Clippers, no team has been better than the Nets since the All-Star break in February.

Heading into the postseason the Nets are streaking at the right time winning six of their last seven contests. However, it was their thrilling one-point victory on Tuesday night versus the two-time defending champion Miami HEAT which may have woke up many who were still sleeping on Brooklyn as a major player. The victory completed a resounding regular season series sweep of Miami and while this doesn’t typically translate into playoff success it should be noted Brooklyn is the only squad the HEAT haven’t defeated in 2014.

For most of the season the majority of league followers have been penciling Indiana and Miami in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, the Nets continue to raise their respective profile and may ultimately serve as this year’s party crashers in the East.

Josh Smith Reflects On What Could have Been In Atlanta

The Atlanta Hawks are on the verge of their seventh consecutive playoff appearance. But it will be the first playoff trip in this time span without forward Josh Smith in the rotation.

Smith departed Atlanta after signing a four-year $54 million deal with Detroit last summer. The Hawks quickly signed unheralded forward Paul Millsap as his replacement. Millsap earned his first All-Star appearance this season. Smith has had a disappointing season with the Detroit Pistons.

Sometimes the grass isn’t greener on the other side of the fence. Sometimes it is. In this case, for both sides, only time will tell how this scenario truly plays out.

However, although both sides have moved on, Smith reflects on the past and says he and former frontcourt mate Al Horford didn’t get a full opportunity to maximize their potential together as teammates.

“I don’t think we hit a ceiling as teammates,” Smith told Sekou Smith of NBA.com. “I think we didn’t necessarily get the opportunity to maximize our potential together. I think it could have worked. We could have a been a smaller version of the twin-towers down there on the block where we were both getting featured. Who knows what it might have been? You never know … until you have a coach who says these are the guys we’re going to go through every night and we’ll see what happens.”

Horford and Smith are polar opposites in many areas of life but Smith says they were both able to feed off each other and grow as people – on and off the floor.

“I think we both have only wanted the best for each other in life,” Smith said. “He’s a little different from what I’m accustomed to off the court, in terms of just our personalities and where we come from, but we were always cool on and off the court. We fed off of each other. Even when he made those All-Star teams when I was here, it was like I made it I was so excited for him. It took some of the sting away for me knowing that one of us was representing for our team. And that chemistry was instant because it equaled success. Playing with a guy of his caliber and feeding off of each other each and every night … it was special.”

The Pistons (29-49) have already been eliminated from playoff contention. The Hawks (34-43) are a game and half ahead of the New York Knicks for the final playoff spot in the East.

The Market For Kenneth Faried

The Denver Nuggets (33-44) are going to have some big decisions to make this summer. This will be the first season since 2003 Denver hasn’t reached the playoffs, ending a remarkable streak. One of the primary decisions the franchise faces will be regarding the future of third year forward Kenneth Faried.

The energetic forward will be eligible for a contract extension after this season and the Nuggets have until October 31 to sign him to one or he’ll become a restricted free agent in 2015.

Denver explored the idea of trading Faried early on this season but the former Morehead State standout is in the midst of a career year and continues to improve many facets of his offensive repertoire.

“They all used to say, ‘All he is, is an energy guy,’” Faried told Zach Lowe of Grantland. “That I was a guy who was gonna run and jump, and that I could only get you nine or 10 points, max.

“Now people are saying, ‘Hey, maybe he can get you 15 or 20 a night. And that I can do it without breaking a sweat.”

Faried’s confidence is soaring and his market value figures to do the same if the current trend continues.  The forward is averaging 18.6 points and 9.5 rebounds since the All-Star break and 22.3 points and 12.7 rebounds in three April contests.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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