CHICAGO - Consider it like a final day of high school.
There's always a twinge of anxiety mixed with anticipation and excitement around this time of year as the All-Star break gets set to kick in, and the Nets were playing the part well last night before their nationally televised matchup with the Bulls. No doubt, they were trying to find a way to build on a 14-5 mark in 2014 against a team that's been their nemesis.
"Definitely, everybody is looking forward to their weekend, kind of getting these days off," Andrei Kirilenko said as he sat in front of his stall inside the visitor's locker room at the United Center. "This is the last game before that, so there is no sense of saving yourself for anything else. Everybody is going to go hard and play for the win."
After all the ups and downs they've experienced since October, when they trekked to Duke for training camp and some team bonding, the Nets couldn't wait for a break. Jason Kidd, who endured a bumpy start to his coaching career, said he hopefully was going to some place warm. Most of the players had their plans set in stone weeks ago.
It's safe to say none will do all that much reflecting on a turbulent 51-game stretch while sipping a fruity beverage in a tropical locale. The fact that the Nets were in position to climb into a tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference with a win over Chicago last night was probably a mini-upset all by itself.
"First couple of months, it was kind of tough for us," Kirilenko said. "That was a major drop for us. We dropped down and I think since the new year has started, we've been great. We've been doing what we are supposed to do, and playing the way like we wanted to play, like we see the picture of the game, and we started to help each other.
"We still have some bad games, but it's less of them. We're more consistent. We're more confident in what we are doing."
Except, apparently, when it comes to back-to-backs. The Nets entered the night posting a 2-9 mark on the tail end of their back-to-backs, and at times, they've been lifeless without Kevin Garnett in the lineup. Garnett has sat out at least one of those games on four occasions, but he was out there last night when the Nets had all hands on deck.
With no starter logging more than 28 minutes in the Nets' win over the Bobcats Wednesday night, and knowing they don't play again until next Wednesday, Kidd was able to go with his normal rotation. But overall, these next two weeks will be far from normal for the Nets as they embark on a seven-game road swing that, in essence, began Thursday night in the Windy City and ends March 1 in Milwaukee.
"Yeah, this is kind of a different trip because we don't come back home until March," Kidd said. "We play [last night] and then we start back in Utah, and then go from there.
"So the All-Star break is important with rest and that we come back as a team, we sit down as a team and talk about what our goal is with 31 games left."
"We slowly turned it around," Kidd added, "and hopefully we can continue to keep building on what we've been doing this year."