Time for Nets to Prove Their Worth

Stretch against winning teams will determine much for Nets

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    Lopez keeps playing well, but it hasn't quieted trade talk.

    The Nets stomped another losing team on Tuesday night, beating the Raptors 113-106 to move to 15-0 against losing teams this season.

    It was the kind of performance that a good team gets to call doing what they need to do to win. The Nets scuffled around a bit on offense, played horrendous defense and ultimately won the game because they are simply a much more talented team than the Raptors. That's been the formula the Nets have used for most of the nine wins they've picked up in P.J. Carlesimo's first 10 games. 

    The Nets got the kind of production from their big three that they were expecting when they doled out millions of dollars for their rights this summer. Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and Joe Johnson combined for 64 points and made all 19 of the free throws they attempted to simply overwhelm the underpowered Raptors.

    When planning out their season, the Nets likely saw plenty of games playing out just that way and, after a delay the hopeful can chalk up to the team gelling, they surely hope to see plenty more in the coming months. Assuming, of course, that all the players remain on the team.  

    Tuesday's win came against the backdrop of Lopez becoming trade eligible after signing a new deal with the Nets during the offseason. It might seem unusual to talk about making a trade involving a strong starter for a 23-15 team, but the Nets have made it clear already this season that they aren't going to be patient when it comes to a winner. 

    Dwight Howard's stay with the Lakers has not gone well and there's a good chance they'll be shopping him before the trade deadline if the losing and dissension continue unabated. And that's going to mean the Nets are drawn into the discussion because Howard might be their last, best chance to get a first-tier superstar. 

    You could make a strong argument that they don't need one, especially one with a personality as phony as Howard's when you've already got a successful thing going with Lopez, but it's unlikely Mikhail Prokhorov's grandiose dreams for the team went away because of a 9-1 record against mostly bad teams. If the man wants a title and wants to be a glitzy team, he's going to at least inquire on players like Howard. 

    We've talked about the coming stretch of games against good teams that the Nets face, but the trade angle makes the games even more significant. If the Nets go out and prove that firing Avery Johnson had less to do with a change of fortunes than the schedule, Prokhorov is going to have to do something else to convince people that he hasn't just been selling snake oil. 

    That's why the Howard trade whispers won't go away until the Nets prove that there's absolutely no reason to think they'd upset the apple cart. Winning against teams better than the Raptors more than one out of every three times you play them is the only real way to do that. 

    Brooklyn's next six games (and eight of their next nine) come against teams just like that so they can't ask for a better way to prove that the best move the team can make is no move at all. 

    Josh Alper is also a writer for Pro Football Talk. You can follow him on Twitter.