EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- He's doing it his way, being himself rather than morphing into someone he's not.
Since the reins were handed over to P.J. Carlesimo, the Nets (19-15) have been a different team. With the exception of their lone loss in six games under their interim coach, they've shown a newfound mentality, playing with a mostly loose, enthusiastic vibe heading into Tuesday night's matchup with the 76ers (15-20) at the Wells Fargo Center.
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Carlesimo is holding them responsible, providing that tough love at times and giving them that swift kick in the backside when necessary.
"I give him a lot of credit," Joe Johnson said after practice Monday. "He comes in here and he's straightforward with us. Regardless of who it is, he's going to call you out and he's going to make you work. We've really worked since he's took over and he's really made us get after it."
Carlesimo, though, refuses to take any kudos for steadying the Nets' ship, even if he's masterfully walked that fine line coaches must tread when dealing with athletes' egos. He did, however, point to coaches such as Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich who have found favorable ways to push the buttons of their star players, a must for any coach if he's going to grab his team's undivided attention.
"It just strikes me that most of the people who have been successful in this league are able to let their players know when they are not doing something right,'' Carlesimo said. "The key is [when] the players are accepting of it . . . I think it's more of the players being particularly accepting to your style. You kind of have to be the way you are, and if the choice is direct or not direct, I'm probably going to be direct."
Case in point: When he first took over, Carlesimo instructed the players not to give Brook Lopez the ball unless he was set up deep in the post. That way, Lopez could get himself warmed up before he began firing away from the outside, and his numbers have risen under Carlesimo. He's averaging 23.7 points and 8.3 rebounds and shooting 59.8 percent.
"I just think he's confident," Deron Williams said of Lopez. "He's not looking over his shoulder every five minutes thinking he's going to get traded, which definitely will help as far as his focus and him mentally being ready to play. I think he's just being so aggressive on both ends, and that's something that we love to see."