Break out the litmus paper.
With the exception of their game against the Heat last week, the Nets haven't faced many high-caliber opponents during their first six games of the season. So that's why Thursday night's nationally-televised game against the Celtics represents something more, and they can sense it.
It serves as the perfect setting for the Nets (4-2) to gauge themselves against the team that's captured the last five Atlantic Division crowns, something they're extremely eager to do.
"It's definitely a big game," Joe Johnson told Newsday after Wednesday's practice at the Barclays Center. "Believe it or not, we just want to try to come out and try to make a statement. Obviously, we went down to Miami and lost to a great team. Now, we have another great team coming in our building and we've got to control tempo and pace."
These teams met exactly four weeks ago in Brooklyn, and although it was just a preseason game, the Celtics played with an increased sense of purpose. The Nets were clobbered on national television, throttled in the second game in their new $1 billion building.
"We definitely remember that game and we are definitely going to come out a different team, I can tell you that," Johnson said. "Right now, the stakes are high for us, man, and we feel if we want to be one of the top teams in the East, then you have to go through Boston. So we have to come out and protect our home court."
Particularly with the way the Celtics delivered a not-so-subtle message a month ago, making sure they muscled the Nets around, who had been receiving their share of hype. Deron Williams expected nothing less from Kevin Garnett & Co.
"I think they're a team that's built that way," he said. "With Garnett being the leader I know, they probably saw us on 'The Association.' It's probably a game they had circled.
It's a division rival, a team that's won the division the last couple of years. So if we want to take a step in that direction, it's a big game for us."
Avery Johnson wants to see some of Boston's championship mentality rub off on the Nets.
"They have a lot of confidence, and they have a nastiness and a swagger about them that I actually like," the coach said. "All the good teams that I've been associated with have it. I'm trying to wait for us to really get one on a consistent basis, home or away."
What better time than when they're riding a three-game winning streak, with Joe Johnson coming off a 25-point outing and easily his best shooting performance all season in Tuesday's win over the Cavaliers?
"It's a confidence booster, not only for me, but my teammates," he said. "I thought we played a great game as a whole. [Today] we should be a totally different team than we were in the preseason."