There was more than one occasion when they looked doomed, destined to crash with a thud and fail to capitalize on a golden chance to capture the imagination of casual basketball fans in the area.
Two weeks ago, the Nets were considered out of the playoff picture, too far behind the final spot with three teams to leapfrog over. But here they are with eight games remaining, in a virtual tie with the Heat for seventh place in the Eastern Conference. They got there Wednesday night by winning their season-best fifth consecutive game, edging the Knicks, 100-98, at Madison Square Garden.
Don't call it a comeback. Just a surge at the perfect time.
“We are just finding ways to win ball games,” Deron Williams said after torching the Knicks for 26 points, seven assists and seven rebounds in a game that wasn’t decided until Brook Lopez tapped in his own miss with two seconds remaining. “Games where we start off great and then have some lulls. Tonight we had two of them. But we just at the end, we kind of buckle down and do what we have to do get wins.”
That's what makes this stretch run all the more impressive, a surge the Nets extended in cardiac fashion to cap a four-game sweep of their crosstown rivals for the first time since 2006-07.
Lopez tipped in his own miss for the winning basket with two seconds left. The 7-footer had worked a pick-and-roll with Deron Williams, whose layup attempt rimmed out. Lopez's clutch play lifted the Nets to their eighth win in nine games.
Rookie Cleanthony Early's three-point attempt from beyond the key at the buzzer hit nothing but air, thwarting a bid by the Knicks (14-61).
Williams scored 12 of his 26 points in the third quarter for the Nets. Andrea Bargnani led the Knicks with 22 points.
Although the Nets are locked with Miami for seventh place, the Heat holds the head-to-head tiebreaker 3-1, technically placing the Nets (34-40) in eighth.
The undermanned Knicks did their best to put a kink in the Nets' playoff push.
"I knew they would have to spoil us tonight and beat us,'' coach Lionel Hollins said. "But we got the win, and whether it was one point or two points, that's all that matters and we move on.''
In winning nine of their last 11 games, a record that's second only to the 10-1 mark the Warriors have compiled during the same stretch, the Nets have found their mojo. They've overcome injuries and flawlessly incorporated a new piece in Thaddeus Young. Lopez is playing as well as he has all season, no longer searching for his role and shot within the offense.
They've developed mental fortitude, and fighting through to win as they've done in their last two games can only provide more of a psychological boost.
"I don't think our confidence has even been down,'' said Young, who came from the Timberwolves in the Kevin Garnett trade. "We have solid guys on this team. We have guys that we know can play and we rely on each and every person each and every night. So we believe in ourselves and we go out there highly confident each and every night ready to win games.''
Given their upcoming schedule, a strong conviction is paramount. Eight of their final nine games are against playoff teams, and in the next week alone the Nets take on the Eastern Conference-leading Hawks twice and square off against the Raptors, Trail Blazers and the Wizards.
"It's going to be tough,'' Joe Johnson said. "But I think it's a challenge we are all prepared for. To be honest with you, the playoffs have kind of started for us already. So we've just got to keep working, just take one game at a time, and prepare for it like it's our last, and just try to stay in the winning column.''