When the Nets' braintrust constructed the team in the offseason, they certainly did it with the Celtics on their mind.
Having won the past five Atlantic Division crowns, Boston serves as the true benchmark, and the Nets know that if they're going to make any noise in the Eastern Conference, finding a way to get past the Celtics' roadblock is paramount.
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"In our situation, the Celtics are definitely in mind," coach Avery Johnson said before Thursday night's game against Boston at the Barclays Center. "From a division standpoint, like I've said, the Celtics are the standard. They've been a model of consistency for a long time . . . You've got two Hall of Fame players in terms of [Kevin] Garnett and [Paul] Pierce, and [Rajon] Rondo is now making his mark. He is just an outstanding point guard. So they are the standard and we talk about them a lot."
Johnson thought Thursday night's game against Boston was a chance for the Nets to pick up their first key win of the season. They hadn't played high-level competition through their first six games, aside from last week's pasting at the hands of the Heat in Miami.
Johnson was hoping for that signature victory in the final game of the Nets' three-game homestand before they begin a three-game West Coast swing against the Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers and Golden State Warriors.
"It's all about consistency," Johnson said. "Games like tonight, we need some breakthroughs. Sure, we've had some recent wins. Obviously, when you play teams like Miami or Boston or the Lakers or Clippers or whatever, those teams have been in the playoffs. Some of those teams have won championships recently. So teams need different breakthrough moments during the course of a season.
"But for our team, this is a big game for us to play tonight. I'm curious to see how far we've advanced, especially considering the last time we played them here in this building ."
As one might imagine, Celtics coach Doc Rivers wasn't feeling the whole breakthrough thing, not even with his team not at full strength. Rondo missed the game with an ankle injury suffered in a loss to Utah Wednesday night, but Rivers wasn't too keen about watching the Nets collect a big win over his team and get a hefty confidence boost.
"Well, we don't want them to beat us, period," he said. "If you have a team down, you want to keep them down. They are going to be a team you have to deal with. They have too much talent. So they'll make their own breaks. I don't think you need a break. I think you make your breaks and I think they will."
Rivers lauded how the Nets have rebranded themselves.
"It's great," he said. "Forget the move. They are a better team. They have better players, they've added to their roster. Then they move here and they kind of repackage their program. They've done an exceptional job. It's really neat to see.
"I do know that our division is really good this year. It's a lot better with the Knicks playing terrific, Philly is a lot better, Brooklyn is better. So we have to deal with all these things."
Notes & quotes: Gerald Wallace (ankle) missed his sixth straight game . . . MarShon Brooks (ankle) was active, but Johnson said he didn't intend to use him unless it was absolutely necessary. He likes the way his bench has played and didn't want to disrupt his rotation.