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New Jersey Nets At The Quarter-Pole: Things Could Be Worse... Right?

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Watching the Nets look completely outmatched the past four games and now sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference might make you think that things are as bad as ever in New Jersey. After starting 2-0 the Nets have gone gone 4-15, lost their point guard to a knee injury, star center's psyche to God knows what and jack of all trades swingman to the D-League.

However, just when you think the first quarter of the season couldn't have gone much worse, you remember...  Ah, yes it could have been much, much worse. 2009-10 worse. After all, short of a complete implosion there is no chance New Jersey repeat's the horrors of last season's 70-loss campaign.

It seems like years -- not months -- since Mikhail Prokhorov became owner of the Nets and pumped up the fan base with his brass predictions for this season.

"I expect us to be in the playoffs next season and championship in one year, minimum, and maximum in five years."

While things don't look great for that prediction right now, there are a lot of positive signs to take away from the first quarter of the season, especially when you compare it to last year's mess.

First and foremost, the Nets have a coach in Avery Johnson.

With all due respect to Kiki Vandeweghe, he was never meant to be a head coach. Kiki will tell you that and certainly anyone that sat through a Nets game last season will tell you the same thing. New Jersey ran a handful of plays on offense and occasionally showed interest on defense.

Over the first quarter of the season, the New Jersey Nets have improved in virtually every statistical category.  None are more important than Johnson's specialty: defense.

Last season the Nets allowed 101.5 points per game while through 21 games they have cut that by over 3 points a game to 98.1. 

Even with all of the problems New Jersey has experienced on the offensive end as the team tries to find the right mix on offense, they are scoring nearly a point more a game. Generally when you are that poor offensively -- as we saw last season -- it's hard to stay in games, but stronger defense along with improved outside shooting (32% to 36%) have prevented a large number of blow outs.

It may seem like things are bad, but remember they could be much worse. This time last year the Nets were 2-19 and the laughingstock of the league. The highlight of every game night was seeing if Chris Douglas-Roberts would explode due to being asked the same three questions about the offense.

The Nets are a struggling 6-15 team, but in the Eastern Conference they are still just 2 games behind the eighth playoff seed and a hot week away from being right smack in the middle of the playoff hunt.

There are plenty of other reasons to believe the next quarter of the season will go much better than the first.

Devin Harris only missed two games after straining his knee and while he looked rusty during his first game back on Sunday, he has periodically showed signs of being a leader on the court. 

There is also the hidden benefit of Harris' injury: the awakening of Jordan Farmar.  Including the game Harris was injured, Farmar has had his best four games of the season while averaging over 19 points per game after being under 8 a game before the injury.

Brook Lopez, for all of the head games he plays with himself, is leading the team with 18.7 points per game and should only improve as he comes back around to play more consistently.

Don't forget about the demoted do-it-all Terrence Williams. Following a short stint in the D-League in which he averaged a triple-double, Williams has been recalled and should help the Nets get their offensive groove back.

Unfortunately for all of the positives on the horizon, things are likely to get worse before they get better for New Jersey. They go on the road this week to take on the Atlanta Hawks who have won six of seven, the Dallas Mavericks and then come home to take on the NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers.

After that, however, they get a week with the Philadelphia 76ers and Washington Wizards at home along with a trip to Toronto to take on the Raptors before taking another shot at the Hawks in Newark. If they can use that stretch of games to get on the right track, the Nets can be in a position to finish their 2010 on a high note.