Wrap-artee: Tuesday, February 28 (A Leap Day Miracle?)

Last night in Dallas, the New Jersey Nets beat the defending champs. The Nets, who were 10.5 point dogs, are 11-25 on the year, good for the sixth-worst record in the entire NBA. In their last ten games, the future Brooklyn Ballers have won only three contests. But oh, those three games.

On Saturday, February 18, the Nets kicked off a back-to-back-to-back stretch by snapping an eight-game losing streak with a 97-85 wire-to-wire win over the listless (and Rose-less) Chicago Bulls. After a loss to Milwaukee at home, they topped the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, 100-92. Against their Tri-State rivals, the Nets grabbed the lead in the second quarter and never trailed the rest of the way, building their advantage up to 18 points in the third period. And then last night, the Nets beat the Mavs 93-92, thanks in large part to Brook Lopez, who scored 38 points in his third game back since returning from injury. The Mavs only held the lead for a 1:21 stretch at the end of the third.

Three games, three dominating road wins over three of the hottest teams in the league.

The Indiana Hoosiers are 23-7 this year, with a 10-7 mark in Big 10 play. Three of their losses came to bottom-five teams in the conference, and they have dropped three ugly double-digit decisions against the conference’s top three teams, Michigan St., Ohio St., and Michigan. But the Hoosiers have also accomplished a feat never before achieved in school history – they have beaten three national top-five teams in a season, adding last night’s demolition of #5 Michigan St to their wins over #1 Kentucky and #2 Ohio St.

Three games, three victories over the nation’s elite.

Now the NBA is a different animal, and catching a team on the right night in the regular season means a whole lot more than in college hoops. Bad teams beat good teams and it’s rarely anything to bat an eyelash over – heck, the Wizards beat the Thunder this year. But the Wizards won that game at home, and the Nets got their three big wins in fairly dominating fashion on the road.

For the Hoosiers, their win over Michigan St. reverses a semi-swoon of uninspiring play and reinserts their name into the conversation of intriguing March teams.

Are the Nets and Hoosiers just some sort of Leap Day William barter, trading the tears of disappointing losses for the candy of impressive wins? Or is there something substantive here?

I’m not willing to endorse either of them yet, but keep these teams on your watch list. The Nets probably won’t overcome the huge whole they’ve put themselves in and enter the playoff race, but with a healthy Brook Lopez, an increasingly impressive Kris Humphries, an improving MarShon Brooks, and one of the best point guards in the game, this might be the start of a .500 or better second half – even without Dwight.

Those Hoosiers, on the other hand, have had a special energy all year. They’ll land in the 4- or 5-slot and emerge as a prime candidate to either fall in the first round (technically, the second round, stupid NCAA), or take out a 1-seed in the Sweet 16. They’ve proven fully capable of both.

Consistency may be valuable, but moments of extreme success can do a lot to overcome those bad memories. Didn’t Aldous Huxley once say “The only completely consistent people are dead”? Maybe trading your tears for some candy isn’t a bad deal after all.

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