And despite that, the Van Horn-free Nets turned in a carbon copy of last season. Wins in the low 50s, an Atlantic Division title, a shot at the Eastern Conference title, and most likely a one or two seed in the playoffs.
The secret to Byron Scott's success? Dee-fense. If anything, the Nets are more athletic on defense, with Kenyon Martin doing his best Dennis Rodman imitation (that's a compliment), and Richard Jefferson clamping down on opposing twos and threes in a way that Van Horn never could. That translates into the league's second-best defense, behind only Detroit's, and a best-in-the-East point differential of 5.6.
That said, understand that the difference between first and eighth in this tightly bunched Eastern Conference is a mere nine games. And the Nets' likely playoff opponent, the newly Paytonized Bucks, are entering the playoffs on a modest 6-1 roll. The X-factor, both short- and long-term, is of course Jason Kidd. The balance of power in the Eastand perhaps in the leaguedepends on how he sees the floor in the next couple of weeks. If he can repeat his freakish performance from last spring (19.6 pts/8.2 reb/9.1 assists) the Nets could again come out of the East and snatch a single moral victory from the Lakers before getting squashed like bugs. But they're also an errant pass or two away from an early exit from the playoffs. And if that happens, expect a similar exit from the free agent Mr. Kidd to the under-the-cap Spurs. Yup, it's all about the vision thing.