Updated: January 22, 2013, 1:23 AM ET

1. Nets Keep Gaining With Carlesimo At Helm

By Brian Windhorst
ESPN.com
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NEW YORK -- The explanation was blunt and a tad crude, but when Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov had to come down out of the Canadian Rockies last month to fire Avery Johnson, it was with a clear mandate.

"We have a basket of talent," Prokhorov said just more than three weeks ago. "And they are capable of much more."

Finding the root of the Nets' midseason turnaround is as uncomplicated as Prokhorov's assessment suggested. They are now 11-2 since Prokhorov dropped the ax and promoted P.J. Carlesimo after their solid 88-85 victory over the New York Knicks Monday at Madison Square Garden.

Seven games back of the Knicks when they made the coaching change, the Nets are now a game back in the Atlantic Division and again have sights set on a top playoff seed as they reach midseason at 25-16.

Joe Johnson
AP Photo/Kathy WillensJoe Johnson is rising with coach P.J. Carlesimo.

Recently, an NBA team did a study of midseason coaching changes over the last decade. The results showed there was only a 1 percent difference in win percentage, in the negative, on average when an interim coach takes over. Mike Woodson going 18-6 after Mike D'Antoni was fired last season was such an outlier from the norm that it earned him the job long-term.

The basic reason for the historic interim malaise is simple: No matter who has the clipboard, the players are the same.

In the Nets' case, though, while the players haven't changed, their individual performances certainly have. Carlesimo has made minor adjustments to the rotation, encouraged a bit more freedom on offense and lightened the mood with the occasional joke.

But the reason the Nets are suddenly potent is because their players, especially their high-paid stars, have started to act like it.

"A game plan is meaningless if the guys don't execute it," the frank and experienced Carlesimo said after his latest win.

Joe Johnson is shooting nearly 10 percent better on 3-pointers and averaging two more points per game since the change. His hanging jumper over J.R. Smith with 22 seconds left, the last of Johnson's 25 points, ultimately made the difference on Monday.

Brook Lopez is healed from a foot injury that derailed the Nets in December and probably sealed Avery Johnson's fate. He has five double-doubles since Carlesimo took over. If you know Lopez's rebounding history, that's no small feat. Against the Knicks, his aggression in rebounding scrums with Tyson Chandler was downright admirable as he ended up with 11 boards and 14 points.

As the league's highest-scoring center, his last month of play has probably assured Lopez of his first All-Star appearance.

But nothing has spurred on the Nets more than Deron Williams. Totally down on his own play around Christmas -- he said he was "playing like crap" -- after signing a $100 million deal last summer, Williams has gotten it going. He's not exactly playing like a superstar, but he has broken out of a miserable shooting slump (his 3-point shooting has leapt 7 percent) and he's averaging almost two more assists per game since Carlesimo has taken over.

"I feel like I was a big part of why we were losing," said Williams, who had 14 points and 12 assists in the latest win. "Our focus, energy and enthusiasm have been a lot better … [Carlesimo] is different than a lot of coaches I have played for, his style and sense of humor."

The Nets aren't running any different plays since Carlesimo was installed. He's calling a wider variety of them and has attempted to get the team to play with more pace, which has led to more scoring. As a result, the Nets are averaging about eight more points per game under Carlesimo than they did under Johnson. That's a significant increase following an on-the-fly changeover.

As one league scout said about the Nets: "They're not playing different, really, but they're playing harder."

It also sure does help when more of the shots go in the basket, no matter who is drawing them up.

"Whenever you have a guy that means that much to you, your franchise player, when Deron picked it up, we picked it up," Nets veteran Jerry Stackhouse said. "I don't think there's any coincidence. Yeah, the coaching change, you can spin that all you want to, but the guys on the court are the ones who really matter."

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