On New Year's Eve, the Brooklyn Nets were left for dead.
They had just suffered a 21-point defeat in San Antonio, their sixth defeat in their last seven games, and stood at 10-21, three games out of the No. 8 seed in the dismal Eastern Conference. Deron Williams had missed 11 games with a sprained ankle, Brook Lopez was out for the season with a broken foot, newcomers Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were producing at career-worst levels and first-year manager Jason Kidd was looking like one of the bigger busts of the NBA season.
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But when the calendar flipped to 2014, so, too, did the Nets' fortunes.
Brooklyn won nine of its first 10 games in January, including victories over Oklahoma City, Golden State, Miami and Dallas. A brief three-game losing streak at the end of the month and into February halted its run, but they have regrouped to the tune of a 7-4 record the rest of the month, and with a win over Milwaukee on March 1 are now in position to be back at .500 for the first time since Nov. 5 (2-2).
Added focus on the defensive end — the Nets are now 18th in defensive efficiency after having one of the worst marks in the league through the season's first two months — and the implementation of a three-guard offense have been the key factors to righting the ship.
Specifically, Shaun Livingston has had a profound effect.
For all the buzz made by the Nets' offseason moves — they have the league's highest payroll, by far — signing Livingston to a one-year, $1.27 million deal.
He filled in valiantly at point guard when Williams missed time in December, and he's been installed in the starting lineup since the New Year.
In those 25 games — the Nets are 18-7 since then, and have moved up to sixth in the East — Livingston has averaged 8.8 points on 48 percent shooting, 3.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.3 steals in 28 minutes per game. Along with Williams and Joe Johnson, the Nets' three-headed monster at guard has allowed mismatches on offense and provided pesky defense that has them averaging 8.1 steals per game, 11th most in the NBA.
You know the big names on the Nets, but Livingston has been just as big a help in turning the Nets' season around. It may provide a contrast in styles tonight, going up against the inside-oriented Bulls, and all the action is happening tonight on Comcast SportsNet. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Bulls Pregame Live, and make sure to stay interactive on social media with Bulls Pulse, presented by AT&T U-verse.