The calendar page flipped to March with a string of 16 straight losses behind the Nets in season one of this heavy-duty reconstruction project in the heart of Brooklyn.
But after going 1-for-January and 0-for-February, the Nets finally are making progress.
They own their first winning streak of the season — two games! — after coming back from an early 15-point deficit to blow out Phoenix, 126-98, on Thursday night at Barclays Center.
“From the outside looking in, it’s like, ‘Man, that’s pretty sad,’ and I guess it is,” Jeremy Lin said after returning from a one-game absence because of a sprained ankle and contributing 13 points and five assists. “But on the inside, every step in the right direction we’ll continue to take and we’ll appreciate it and we’ll be grateful for it.”
The Nets are 4-3 in their last seven games and 6-7 this month — their winningest in a 15-56 season.
Brook Lopez paced the Nets with 19 points. K.J. McDaniels led a season-high 81-point avalanche from the bench by scoring a season-high 16 and grabbing eight rebounds.
“We’ve had individual growth,” Lopez said, “but the big thing is our growth together.”
Lin’s return from his hamstring problem after the All-Star break has helped in a large way, giving the Nets a steady hand at the point.
“I compare it to football,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “When you have your starting quarterback, he commands the huddle. [Lin] commands the huddle . . . He just has a certain aura about him. It translates to the team.”
The opposing team already had shut down center Tyson Chandler, point guard Eric Bledsoe and backup point guard Brandon Knight, deciding to rest them for the remainder of the season. The Suns played the youngest starting lineup in NBA history and dropped to 22-50 with their sixth straight loss.
“We just have to take the best of the situation that we’re in and make the best of it,” guard Devin Booker said after topping the Suns with 28 points.
It was 57-57 three minutes into the third quarter. Then the Nets started to take charge. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson fed Lopez for a dunk, and the Nets were off on a 9-0 run.
The Suns were only seven back at 70-63 when the Nets took off again. Lin scored on a drive to start it, and five players scored in a 12-1 burst. Lopez scored 12 in the quarter, and the advantage swelled to 84-65 after three.
In the fourth, the Nets actually inflated the cushion to 33 points over another NBA team.
“I think we are building and we are improving,” Atkinson said.
The Suns weren’t looking like a team that is tanking early on. They grabbed 20-5 and 30-15 leads in the first quarter. When it was 12-4, Atkinson called a timeout. He said that “pens were flying and clipboards were flying.”
“That was him waking us up,” said Archie Goodwin, who scored 12 against his old team. “We came out of the gate with no energy.”
They eventually woke up and floored it.