EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It's not that they're unable to remember what happened exactly 10 weeks ago Friday night.
But with the assortment of ailments the Nets have sifted through this season, paired with their roller-coaster play, their 101-100 win over the Heat on Nov. 1 seems like ancient history. The past 70 days probably feel as if they should be counted in dog years.
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"It seems like a very, very long time," Joe Johnson said Thursday. "Obviously, we are a different team and we are trying to find our niche, so to speak, and take care of home court. So this is definitely a big game for us."
Jason Kidd wasn't even on the bench that night, serving the second game of his DWI-related suspension. "That's a long time ago," he said, "and [we're] probably looking at two different teams from where we've gone and for [Miami].''
The Heat has taken the elevator straight toward the penthouse, and even after losing to the Knicks on Thursday night, Miami is only 11/2 games behind the Eastern Conference-leading Pacers. The Nets (14-21), on the other hand, rode an express elevator straight down to scavenger territory, swimming with the "bottom-feeders," as Paul Pierce put it last month.
The Nets finally have found some sort of rhythm, though, and sport the league's longest current winning streak at four games after snapping the Warriors' winning streak at 10 games Wednesday night. They've risen slightly out of the murky water and find themselves in eighth place in the conference standings, something that prompted Andray Blatche to do a double-take when he saw the board in the training facility's locker room.
"It's mind-blowing," Blatche said. " . . . I walked in. We've got the little standings in there. I looked and I'm counting and I'm like, 'We are in the eighth seed?' It's encouraging and at the same time, it's crazy. I couldn't believe it. I had to make sure they did it right.
"But we are trying to get a higher seed. We are trying to get better. We are not really satisfied with being the eighth seed right now."
After weeks of searching for an identity and wondering about the precise formula for consistent victories, the Nets finally might have the recipe, Blatche says. In his eyes, the ingredients are trust, communication, belief their teammate is going to be in the right spot, focus on boxing out, and effort and sustained energy on both sides of the ball.
"It's about time we found our identity," he said. "It's about time we figure out what it takes. Me personally, I thought it would be sooner than later. But we've got it. We figured it out. We get it, we got it. We know what it takes. We know what we've got to do, so now it's pretty much doing it every night."
If so, what better team to test their newfound success than the Heat?
"It's a big challenge," Johnson said. "We are looking forward to it. We know we can compete with any team in this league, even with the fact that Deron [Williams] is out, Brook [Lopez] is out. We've got to go with the guys that we've got and guys have got to step up. That's pretty much how it's been over the course of the past four games.''
Williams not playing. Kidd said Williams, who had platelet-rich plasma therapy and received injections in both ankles earlier this week, won't play against the Heat and will sit out Saturday's game against the Raptors. Williams is questionable for the Nets' game against the Hawks in London next Thursday. Will he travel to England? Said Kidd: "We'll re-evaluate him this weekend, then we'll make a decision."