Since the calendar turned to 2014, the Brooklyn Nets finally have been playing up to the lofty expectations that may have burdened them at the start of the season.
They'll look to win for the eighth time in nine games this month while avenging an earlier loss to the visiting Orlando Magic on Tuesday night.
Brooklyn (17-22) dropped six of its final seven December contests to fall 11 games below .500, a far cry from where it expected to sit heading into the new year after acquiring Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry from Boston in the offseason.
Despite center Brook Lopez being sidelined for the reminder of the season, the Nets have found their groove during a recent run that includes wins over Oklahoma City, Golden State and Miami.
Joe Johnson, averaging 24.5 points over the last six, scored 25 to help Brooklyn beat New York 103-80 on Monday.
'We want it to keep going, so we're going to keep working hard,' Johnson said. 'We know why we've won seven of the last eight, so we're just going to keep working hard, keep playing together.'
Deron Williams returned after missing the last five games with a nagging ankle injury, but he told coach Jason Kidd he'd rather come off the bench than disrupt the chemistry of a starting lineup that his featured Johnson, Pierce, Garnett, Alan Anderson and Shaun Livingston.
Williams scored 13 points in a little over 27 minutes. Reserve forward Andray Blatche has totaled 39 points and 26 rebounds over the last two.
'Just because we've been playing so well with that lineup. Why shake things up?' Williams said. 'It doesn't matter if I come off (the bench) or start.'
The Nets seem to be a much different team than the one that fell 107-86 at Orlando on Nov. 3. Pierce had 16 points as Brooklyn had its four-game series winning streak snapped.
While Brooklyn has been rolling in 2014, the Magic (11-30) lost their first nine of the new year as part of a 10-game skid that finally ended with Sunday's 93-91 win over Boston.
Arron Afflalo had 20 points and a career-high 13 rebounds, while Jameer Nelson added 16 points and 10 assists for Orlando, which went with a seven-man rotation.
'The emphasis was to win,' Afflalo said. 'I thought we did that because I could feel no personal agendas, could feel nothing but five guys on the court and the two guys who came off the bench really looking for a way to get a victory.'
Rookie Victor Oladipo, who scored 19 points in the first meeting with the Nets, was the only starter not in double figures with nine.
'Everybody was eager to win, so we've got to be like that every game,' Oladipo said. 'When you have a mindset of just continue to play hard, and when your teammates have your back, it's hard not to be involved and focused and locked in.'
Glen Davis, who scored 17 points Sunday, sat out the first meeting with Brooklyn with a foot injury.
The Associated Press News Service
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