At the start of 2014, there was little reason to think the Nets would wind up anywhere near the playoffs.

Despite spending close to $200 million of owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s vast fortune to construct a roster the team felt would be championship-caliber, the Nets were anything but through the opening two months of the season, bottoming out in an embarrassing blowout loss to the Spurs on New Year’s Eve.

But since the calendar flipped to 2014, the Nets have looked like a totally different team. Including Sunday’s 114-99 victory over the Timberwolves in front of a sellout crowd of 17,732 at Barclays Center, the Nets are an Eastern Conference best 29-12 in 2014. They’ve gone an NBA-best 19-2 in Brooklyn — including winning their last 13 in a row — and have moved to within one win of clinching a playoff berth.

“It just shows you the character of this group,” Paul Pierce said of the team’s turnaround. “A lot of teams with bad character, bad leadership in the locker room would’ve laid down a long time ago. Around Christmas, [they] probably would have been making summer plans.

“But we’ve got a mentally strong group in this locker room, full of veterans, and we were always staying positive, being patient with one another. We never had a locker-room rift. There was never no whispering going on, or one guy blaming the next guy. … We believed in Jason Kidd and we saw things turn around, and we made a resolution on the first that we’re going to somehow find a way to turn it around, and since then, we’ve been a growing ball club and we’ll continue to grow.”

Don’t count Timberwolves superstar Kevin Love among those impressed with the team’s turnaround, which has seen the Nets (39-33) zoom up the Eastern Conference standings, where they remain 2 ¹/₂ games behind the Raptors and 1 ¹/₂ games back of the Bulls for third and fourth, respectively, after both of those teams also won Sunday.
“Their vets are healthy, they got guys who can step up and make shots,” said Love, who then added, “They’re in the East.”

Some of Love’s resentment surfaces because his Timberwolves (36-36) are playing out the string in the much deeper Western Conference, while at least one and potentially two teams are likely to make the playoffs in the East with losing records.