So with their crosstown rivals set to clinch the division title -- the Knicks' magic number is one -- the Nets can focus on getting healthy and making sure key reserves are ready to play.
That's where MarShon Brooks comes in. The second-year guard with the tantalizing talent could turn out to be a pivotal piece for the Nets during the postseason. He's in the midst of his most impressive stretch of the season, making good on the flurry of minutes interim coach P.J. Carlesimo has given him as Joe Johnson nurses injuries.
These past five games, statistically, are the best Brooks has turned in during his roller-coaster sophomore season in the league. He's averaging nine points and shooting 50.8 percent in that stretch, and who can forget Wednesday's brilliant performance against the Cavaliers, when he netted a career-high 27 points and had seven assists?
"I'm just trying to have a streak of good games," Brooks said. "I've had good games, and after good games, I've come back and played five minutes . . . So it's been tough on me all year, but P.J. has been giving me an opportunity to play a lot of minutes lately, letting me play through mistakes.
"So it's honestly just me getting a rhythm. I've never had the opportunity to get into a rhythm [this season], for obvious reasons."
Brooks said he wasn't able to get comfortable under former coach Avery Johnson, who had him on a short leash because of inconsistency. Brooks can make the crowd go "ooh" one minute, only to hear groans the next when he makes a youthful gaffe.
What he'd like to hear now is Carlesimo calling his name frequently in the playoffs. And whenever the Nets' season wraps up, Brooks plans on getting down and dirty with an eye on 2013-14.
"Nobody is going to work harder than me this [offseason]," Brooks said. "It's a lot of motivation. I've been through a lot this year . . . This summer is a big summer for me, obviously, a big summer for my career. I'm just looking forward to it."