Don’t look now, but the Brooklyn Nets are coming.

Less than two months ago, things were looking bleak for Brooklyn. After giving up 153 points in a loss to the Kings on Nov. 15, the Nets sat at 6-9 and were in desperate search of answers to turn their season around before it was too late. Since then, Brooklyn has been the NBA’s hottest team, using a surge that included a 12-game win streak to rise toward the top of the Eastern Conference standings.

While it at one point appeared that the race to win the East would only feature the Celtics and Bucks, the Nets have burst into the conversation with this recent stretch and there are a few signs that indicate that this version of the Nets is here to stay.

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He’s Kevin Durant

When applicable, I’ll never pass on a chance to reference Durant’s legendary quote from the 2019 NBA Playoffs. Nearly four years later, it’s as true as it was back then.

Through all of the ups and downs in Brooklyn, Durant’s play has been the lone constant. And man has he been impressive.

At 34 years old in his 15th season on the court, Durant is averaging 29.9 points per game while shooting 56.8 percent from the field, 36.9 percent from 3-point range and 93.3 percent from the charity stripe. During Brooklyn’s win streak, Durant averaged a shade under 29 points per game on .592/.407/.969 shooting splits.

Translation: KD doesn’t miss much.

In addition to his potently efficient offense, Durant has been making things happen on the defensive end, disrupting things with his length and taking on challenges to guard other stars in spots, something he did in a narrow loss to Luka Doncic and the Mavericks earlier in the year.

Considering Durant’s body of work over the course of his all-time great career, it’s saying something to say that this season has been some of the best basketball he’s ever played.

When you look at Milwaukee and Boston, each team has its respective MVP candidate in Giannis Antetokounpo and Jayson Tatum. Not only do the Nets have an MVP candidate in Durant, but they also have a player capable of willing his team to victory in the heat of a playoff battle, something required of every championship team.

MORE: LeBron James, Kevin Durant lead the way in first All-Star fan vote returns

Kyrie Irving is back

It’s no coincidence that Brooklyn’s surge coincides with Irving’s reinstatement to the lineup following a team-mandated suspension earlier in the season. In fact, Brooklyn was 17-3 in its first 20 games following Irving’s return.

Like Durant, Irving has been scoring at a high clip and doing it at an efficient rate. Since returning to the lineup on Nov. 20, Irving is averaging 25.9 points while shooting 51.5 percent from the field, 40.8 percent from deep and 90.1 percent from the free throw line. Given how prolific Durant has been, Irving is technically Brooklyn’s second option … but those aren’t second-option numbers.

How do you stop that attack?

Folded in with the need to have a player capable of willing the team to victory is the need for a player that isn’t afraid to take the big shot. With Durant and Irving, Brooklyn has two of the best at it.

After a confounding year spent in and out of the lineup, Irving is again a full-time participant and clearly has found his rhythm alongside his teammates. That is going to go a long way.

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The Jacque Vaughn Effect

It’s time to give credit where it’s due — coaching is extremely important. The ways in which Vaughn has developed a unique connection with this group cannot be understated.

While he still had the “interim” label, Vaughn made it clear that he values trust more than anything. A mutual level of trust between coaches and players, and players with one another is yet another important piece to a championship puzzle.

That level of trust is especially important in high-pressure situations.

While Irving’s impressive game-winner from above is something to marvel at, it’s important to know exactly how that play came to be.

Vaughn’s connection with the players is exactly how he was able to command the locker room during Brooklyn’s 2020 appearance at the NBA Restart at the Disney World “bubble” and those same methods are working years later.

The improved team chemistry has been the key that’s allowed Brooklyn to improve defensively. The Nets’ depth has become a strength as the team is getting the most out of every player in its rotation.

Coaching has a direct impact on each of the above concepts.

In addition to his connection with Durant and Irving, Vaughn has gotten the best out of Nic Claxton, facilitated Yuta Watanabe’s breakout season and ingratiated Joe Harris, Ben Simmons and TJ Warren, each of whom is returning from missing extended time due to injury.

Brooklyn has star power, is well-coached and is developing an identity over the course of this 82-game season. The Nets are here, and they’re ready to crash the Eastern Conference party.

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