The Brooklyn Nets have been the team of “ifs” over the last two seasons. With one of the more talented rosters in the NBA, Brooklyn has long been seen as a title contender on paper. But those expectations have rarely moved past hypothetical talking points.

The Nets appeared to be heading for more of the same this season after starting 1-5, firing head coach Steve Nash, and suspending Kyrie Irving for eight games.

However, you would not know any of that occurred if you have only watched them play over the last three weeks.

Brooklyn claimed their 11th win in 14 games with a 112-100 victory over the Washington Wizards on Monday. To say the Nets have completely turned it around and pushed themselves into contender status may be jumping the gun, but they’re certainly trending in that direction. And Irving’s play since returning from his suspension and a month-long media circus is a major reason why.

The guard has averaged 27.0 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 47.9 percent shooting over his last six games. Most importantly, he has stayed out of the headlines and made it a point to keep the focus on basketball.

“Let’s just go win ballgames, that’s really what the attitude is,” Irving said following Monday’s win. “No more excuses, more distractions, no more just throwing in these surprise injuries. We just want everybody to be healthy, everybody to have fun and come in and play their game.”

The seven-time All-Star scored 20 first-half points on 7-of-12 shooting on Monday to give the Nets a lead from which they would not relinquish. Irving’s leadership and engagement, particularly on the defensive end, were on full display throughout the win. The veteran drew praise from head coach Jacque Vaughn for diving three rows into the crowd while trying to save a loose ball in the fourth quarter up 11 points.

Kyrie Irving said his team’s increased effort is a byproduct of Vaughn’s attitude. “Jacque’s made it very clear that if you’re not playing hard enough, he’s going to let you know about it,” the guard shared.

The Nets are 13-5 since Vaughn was officially named head coach. Vaughn spoke about his team’s resurgence pregame Monday, pointing to connectivity and collective buy-in amid recent success.

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“I think we’ve committed ourselves to playing for and with each other, and that started on the defensive end of the floor,” he said via Brian Lewis. “We just asked the guys to play hard. At the end of the day, you can cover up a lot of things by just playing hard. So we’ve taken that approach for most nights.”

That statement rang true Saturday when the Nets took down the Indiana Pacers without their top eight rotation players. The game marked Kevin Durant’s first absence of the season. The former MVP is having among the best starts to a year in his career, averaging 30.0 points per game on 55.6 percent shooting.

Durant scored a game-high 30 points on 11-of-17 shooting against the Wizards. And the fourth-year Net spoke highly of his team’s resolve when asked postgame about the shorthanded win in Indiana.

“That’s the type of team you want to be on,” KD said. “Regardless of what’s going on around you, everybody is staying focused and staying to the mission.”

The comment should be bookmarked given Durant requested a trade over the summer and cited Brooklyn’s lack of accountability when shorthanded last season as a major reason why. The Nets went on an 11-game losing streak with Durant and others sidelined.

“I think a lot of stuff was getting swept under the rug because we’re injured, or this guy’s not around, or just the circumstances,” Durant said at Nets media day this preseason. “I thought we could have fought through that a little bit more and focused on the guys that were here.”

Led by Vaughn, Brooklyn’s reserves overcame several double-digit deficits in the second half Saturday. And it appears Durant took notice of his team’s grit.

Monday’s win brings the Nets to 17-12 on the year. Brooklyn now sits 0.5 games back of the Cleveland Cavaliers for third place in the Eastern Conference.

Vaughn’s squad will get more rest with three days off before they travel to Canada for a matchup with the Toronto Raptors Friday.