7. 2003-04 New Jersey Nets
The New Jersey Nets were an established contender in the Eastern Conference entering the 2003-04 season after reaching the NBA Finals each of the previous two years.
But this season would not go nearly as smoothly, as the Nets battled injuries and some controversy. With reports his relationship with star point guard Jason Kidd had deteriorated and with the team languishing just above .500, coach Bryon Scott was fired in late January.
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The team was just 22-20, leading the Atlantic Division but not playing well. Assistant coach Lawrence Frank was named interim coach for the remainder of the season and the team responded well to the change.
OK, that’s a monumental understatement.
The Nets erupted after the change, reeling off 13 straight wins after Frank took over to seize control of the Atlantic Division race.
New Jersey would eventually cool off and finished 25-15 under Frank and 47-35 overall, good for the division title and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs.
That was despite Kidd missing 15 games with various ailments and All-Star Kenyon Martin sitting for 17.
Richard Jefferson emerged as the team’s scoring leader, putting up 18.5 points per game. Martin did the board work to the tune of averages of 16.7 points and 9.5 rebounds a night, while Kidd averaged 15.5 points and 9.2 assists.
The Nets won 47 games despite a starting center in Jason Collins who averaged just 5.9 points and 5.1 rebounds in 28.5 minutes per game while shooting only 42.4 percent.
Despite the injuries, Kidd earned first-team All-NBA honors and second-team All-Defensive laudits and joined Martin as an All-Star.
The Nets rolled over the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs, sweeping New York with a pair of blowout wins at home, a close Game 3 win on the road and pulling away behind Martin’s 36 points to win Game 4.
Despite the No. 2 seed, the Nets would not have homecourt advantage for the conference semifinals, as the third-seeded Detroit Pistons had won 54 games.
The Pistons demolished the Nets in Game 1, holding New Jersey to a playoff-record-low 56 points in a 78-56 win. A 95-80 win in Game 2 sent the Nets back to Jersey down 2-0.
It was the Nets’ turn to blow out the Pistons, with 82-64 and 94-79 wins evening the series. New Jersey then stunned the Pistons with a triple-overtime win at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Game 5, as Jefferson scored seven points in the third extra frame to help the Nets pull away for a 127-120 win.
The unsung hero for New Jersey was reserve Brian Scalabrine, owner of a 3.5 points-per-game average in the regular season. Logging 23 minutes in the game, Scalabrine poured in 17 points — including a perfect 4-for-4 from 3-point range — to provide an unexpected boost off the bench.
The opportunity came because Martin was dogged by foul trouble and played 35 minutes in the 63-minute marathon.
But Detroit came back to win Game 6 on the road, 81-75, and back home for Game 7 left no double, bashing the Nets 90-69.