EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - That eight-letter word entrenched in the Nets' vernacular during their first three seasons in Brooklyn was conspicuously absent in the preseason, replaced mostly by some quiet cautious optimism.
Mentions of "playoffs" were typically uttered only by players when outsiders broach the subject. Trimming down a league-record payroll, infusing their roster with youth and going without a proven commodity at the all-important position of point guard has many pegging the Nets as an afterthought.
But don't be mistaken: The Nets still like their chances of punching a postseason ticket come April when the regular-season dust settles in the Eastern Conference.
"I think we feel good about them," Thaddeus Young said. "I think the biggest thing for us is going into every game like we are playing with a chip on our shoulder. I've played for teams that don't have the most talent, but we made the playoffs and we did very well for ourselves throughout the season. And this team can do the same thing.
"So I am not really too worried about what people have to say. It's all about us going out there and executing and doing the things we have to do as a team to win ballgames."
In retooling the roster during the offseason while trying to set the team up financially and clear cap space, general manager Billy King injected the Nets with some youth and athleticism. No longer old and slow, the Nets plan to play up-tempo as much as possible when they aren't feeding Brook Lopez in the post, quickly moving up and down the floor in transition to collect some easy buckets.
Doing that takes solid decision-making from their point guard, putting the onus on the trio of Jarrett Jack, Shane Larkin and Donald Sloan to get it done and handle the job of replacing Deron Williams. The Nets hope they will answer the call, allowing them to feel as if they've achieved something tangible at season's end.
"Success is getting in the playoffs," coach Lionel Hollins said. "That's what everybody is trying to do -- get in the playoffs. Some people think the Yankees didn't do anything because they had a one-and-done in the playoffs. But they did make the playoffs. There are NFL teams that get in the playoffs and they lose the first game and they are out. But they did make the playoffs."
The Nets don't have enough consistent offensive firepower to outscore teams and must limit their mistakes. They know the last thing this group can do is give the opposition extra possessions.
"We can't really have guys that don't show up," Lopez said. "They can come out and maybe not shoot well, but if they come in and give us nothing in terms of defense, moving the ball, making the right plays, it's going to hurt us. We are definitely going to need everyone. We can't really come out lackadaisical, for this team especially.
"We have a lot of young guys who rely on their youth and athleticism, so we need them to come out and play smart, but also take advantage of those youthful characteristics."
Do that and perhaps the Nets could indeed find themselves playing in the postseason for a fourth straight year.
"Every team right now thinks they can and every team wants to, but every team won't," Hollins said. "And we want to be one of those that do."