When the Nets were putting together their marketing campaigns last summer touting themselves as something much better than a .500 team, they were likely focusing on nights like Wednesday.
Nights when Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Deron Williams formed a three-man, All-Star band capable of running roughshod over the stiffest of competition without breaking too much of a sweat. That's exactly what happened in Oklahoma City as the trio combined for 77 points, 23 of them in the fourth quarter, and the Nets ended the Thunder's 12-game home winning streak in a 110-93 win that is easily their most impressive of the season.
That fourth quarter work was the most notable development of the evening since the Nets have been a brutally bad second half team this season. They were awful in the third quarter on Wednesday, allowing the Thunder to outscore them by 12, erasing much of a large halftime lead, but they zigged where they normally zag and didn't fold in the final minutes for a change.
The score was tied at 85 in the fourth, which means the Nets finished with a 25-8 run spurred by the three players that they believed would be the core of a winning team. Lopez has been the only player to live up to his reputation, which sadly includes foot injuries, but all of them were on their game against the Thunder.
It's a welcome change for the Nets and, frankly, as huge a surprise as any result this season thanks to the Nets' clear lack of intensity up until this point. It was such an unexpected turn of events that the placid Kevin Durant wound up getting kicked out of the game after losing his temper, likely at the prospect of being run off the court by a team that starts Kris Humphries.
It's inevitable that some analyst will decide that P.J. Carlisemo has imbued the team with a winning spirit that Avery Johnson could not install in the first two months of the season. We're not quite sure how such an argument can be made less than a week after one of the most pathetic NBA performances of the season, though.
It was just December 31st when the Nets closed out 2012 by scoring five points in the third quarter in a humiliating loss to the Spurs and Carlisemo was the coach for that game too. More likely this was a good night for the Nets, a bad one for the Thunder and not at all something to use to make any argument other than one about what the Nets can do when they aren't trying to get their coach fired.
Can the Nets turn it into more? The schedule is pretty forgiving in the next couple of weeks, something that could allow the team to gain some momentum and put the ugliness of December further into the rearview mirror.
The real answer will come in the final 10 games of the month, though. They play just two teams with losing records over that stretch and any claim that the team has ironed out its problems will have to wait until they emerge from that gauntlet with a robust winning record.
Anything less means that the 14-14 mark that got Johnson fired was the team's real level. Wednesday night suggested the ceiling could be higher, but it doesn't mean a thing if the Nets don't repeat it every game from here on out.