It’s all coming together for the Brooklyn Nets (24-12). Perhaps not as anyone drew it up, but it is coming together nonetheless as they boast the NBA’s second-best record and the longest active winning streak — currently at 11 games following their 123-106 win over the Charlotte Hornets.
This is a complete 180-degree change from their outlook just a few weeks ago with accountability, trust and playing for one another as central tenets of the turnaround keyed by Jacque Vaughn’s ascension to head coach.
The stars have embodied Vaughn’s message of accountability to a man, with Ben Simmons going so far as to say he likes to be called out when the situation demands it.
Simmons’ commitment recently showed in a way that Kyrie Irving found “encouraging.”
Kyrie Irving Doesn’t Take Ben Simmons ‘for Granted’
“Any time one of your teammates is selfless enough to put their body on the line for you, you don’t take that moment for granted,” Irving said after the game. “Because, obviously, he’s putting himself at risk and we know that. He’s sick, he’s not feeling well. But he felt called to play and you got to honor that. He gave us everything he had and we came out with a win.”
Simmons entered the contest questionable with a non-COVID illness that kept his status unclear until game time.
He had just 2 points and 2 assists (to 2 turnovers) in a little over 19 minutes of action, his fewest since the Nets’ 143-114 blowout win over the Golden State Warriors on December 21 but his lone basket was a highlight.
“As somebody who wanted to finish the year off with us, was a little banged up and a little sick, but was able to come out there and give us some solid minutes, we really appreciate that as his teammates,” Kevin Durant said during a postgame press conference on December 31. “We know you’re under the weather but you still wanna give it a push to go play that says a lot.”
That is significant because Simmons’ previous absences have been mostly injury-related in his career, including this season.
He has appeared in 26 of the Nets’ 36 games this season after missing all of last year.
The myriad issues he has dealt with leading up to now, including his feeling of being hung out to dry by his former team, as he explained on JJ Redick’s “The Old Man and The Three” podcast, have given the three-time All-Star and two-time All-Defensive selection a new perspective.
Ben in Balance
“It’s not getting too carried away knowing we have a long year and guys understand that,” Simmons told the New York Post of the Nets’ success this season. “My experiences in Philly, we had a young team and we had guys who are not used to being in the league for that long, and not knowing how to win and not knowing it’s not easy to win.”
It may be hard to believe now, but the Nets were 2-6 to start this season and had the look of the NBA’s next failed experiment. Instead, they have turned into a juggernaut that no one will want to see come the postseason.
”I think it’s a huge sign for your teammates — of showing up for your teammates, being ready to rumble,” Vaughn said during the postgame press conference. “You’re not gonna be 100 percent all the time.”
Again, that is a significant development as those kinds of questions have dogged Simmons.
As he continues to be further removed from back surgery, feels embraced by his teammates and feels more comfortable in his situation, the Nets could get to an even higher level on both ends of the floor – a scary thought for the rest of the league.