The Nets (15-40) got back to business on the court on Friday, beating the crosstown rival New York Knicks 109-98 at Barclays Center. Brook Lopez picked up right where he left off scoring a season-high 33 points along with eight rebounds and four blocks. Bojan Bogdanovic, as he did in the January 13th win over the Knicks, hit four out of his five three-point attempts en route to 16 points off the bench. If you listen blindly to Knicks rookie big man, Kristaps Porzingis, you would think the Nets play this way all the time.
“That’s very hard to stop,” Porzingis said. “When Brook gets going like that he’s a really good player. And they have shooters from outside, so you really can’t help that much knowing they have shooters that will make shots. It was a really good game for them. It was hard to stop them.”
Tonight, the Nets will play their last game at home against the Charlotte Hornets (28-26) before embarking on their annual “Circus Road Trip” that will see them play nine straight road games, the majority of which in the Pacific time zone. Each year the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus set up shop at Barclays Center for a few weeks; the NBA schedule makers cooperatively comply with the events by sending the Nets around the country. Last season the Nets went 3-5 on the trip.
The Hornets are currently tied with the Chicago Bulls (28-26) for the last two Eastern Conference playoff spots, but only a game and half ahead of the Detroit Pistons (26-27). Despite a crippling stretch to start the calendar year that resulted in nine losses in ten games, the Hornets have hit their stride and are currently in the midst of their best basketball of the season. Head Coach Steve Clifford’s squad has won 10 of their last 14 games including their last four. But they recently got some bad news: forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who just returned to the team after surgery on his left shoulder, is out for the year after needing it again.
On Friday, the Hornets came from behind to beat the Bucks 98-95 in Milwaukee in a game that saw more turnovers (39) than assists (35). Kemba Walker led the Hornets with 25 points, and Cody Zeller notched 23, adding nine rebounds. Center Al Jefferson returned to the court after missing 23 games while rehabbing from knee surgery he had in December. Jefferson, third team All-NBA two seasons ago, has played in only 20 games this season.
This will be the second of four meetings this year between the Nets and Hornets. On November 18th, Nicolas Batum scored 24 points and dished out eight assists to lead the Hornets to a 116-111 win in Charlotte. Thaddeus Young led the Nets with 27 points (19 in the second half) on 11-of-17 shooting. The 111 points by the Nets marked the most points scored in a regulation loss this season.
Watch to watch for: Courtney Lee is scheduled to make his Hornets debut tonight after being acquired at the trading deadline in a three-way trade that sent P.J. Hairston to the Memphis Grizzlies. Lee, an ex-Nets guard, is averaging 12.4 points per game and was a key cog to the Grizzlies success the past two seasons. In last year’s playoffs, Lee averaged 13.3 points on 55 percent shooting, including 46.7 percent from three in 11 games. The nine-year veteran was not ready for the deal, but should be active against the Nets.
“It kind of threw me off,” Lee said Thursday after Hornets practice. “I’m the new face in town. I still have to get comfortable playing with these guys. But it feels good to have a coaching staff that has confidence in me.”
Lee, also a worthy perimeter defender, averaged 12.5 points in 71 games for the New Jersey Nets during the 2009-10 season.