HOPE! Nets Close Road Trip On High Note


What happened: The Nets closed their eight-game circus road trip on a high note, defeating the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas, 104-94.

Where they stand: The Nets improve to 24-33 with the win, and hold the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs by a hair. They lead the Indiana Pacers (24-34), Charlotte Hornets (23-33) and Boston Celtics (23-33) each by a half-game.

That was… The perfect end to the longest road trip in Nets franchise history. After two close losses to tough teams missing key players, the third time was the charm, as the Nets spread the floor in the second half, controlled the glass, got some key stops down the stretch. Rick Carlisle noticed:

The Mavericks were missing center Tyson Chandler and forward Chandler Parsons, which led to this bit of pre-game confusion, but also gave the Nets an avenue for victory that they finally took advantage of. There’s a semblance of a real team here, with length & versatility & veterans & one dude who can throw down in-game 360 dunks.

Undefeated update: The Nets are undefeated in games when Devin Harris hits a half-court shot.

Game Grades: Read ’em here.

Hey, Deron Williams!

It’s a tale as old as time February 23, 2011: the Nets only go as far as Deron Williams can lead them. Well, Williams played a pretty good leadership role Saturday night, finishing with a game-high 25 points on 9-14. Though he only finished with two assists, the Nets didn’t need him to be a distributor.

“We felt like we had an advantage in the pick-and-roll,” Williams told YES Network’s Sarah Kustok after the game. “So we used that to our advantage.”

Williams has notoriously improved his production as the year progresses in each of his seasons with the Nets, most famously in 2012-13, after a juice cleanse and platelet-rich plasma therapy treatment aided Williams in a second-half surge. This year has been no different: Williams looks quicker and more aggressive attacking the basket in the past five games, and though he doesn’t have the lift he once did, he’s still getting crafty points around the basket.

I Want To Be Forever Young:

This was just one of Thaddeus Young’s major plays for the Nets: after a missed three-pointer by Deron Williams, Young snuck his eighth rebound in the paint, resetting the offense and giving the Nets added time on one of their final possession. It allowed the Nets to burn 17 more seconds off the clock. That’s a huge number. Think of it this way: a seven-point deficit takes three successful possessions to erase, barring an unlikely four-point play. It’s easier to get to three possessions in 70 seconds than it is in 53.

A seven-point deficit with 70 seconds left is a tough climb as is, but a nine-point deficit with 53 seconds left — earned by, what else, a Jarrett Jack floater and a finger-gun salute — is as close to a cemented victory as you can get.

Young finished with 16 points on 7-12 shooting, mostly on floaters in the paint, and added eight rebounds, none bigger than the one above.

Some breaths of longball: Last season, the Nets turned their fortunes around by switching to a versatile small/long hybrid lineup that allowed four of their players to switch and Kevin Garnett to anchor the back line, giving them one of the league’s best defenses and closing the season on a 34-17 tear.

This Nets team doesn’t have that same talent or potential for domination. But in the team’s new, youthful lineup, there’s some semblance of what the team used to be. Johnson has played bigger players with aplomb since the All-Star break, Anderson can swing up & Young down in a pinch, Brown is springy and quick enough to disrupt anyone on any given possession, and Williams runs a game well when he’s the lone point guard on the floor. With their current lineup, the Nets have four three-point threats[note]Though Brown has struggled to click in his shot in his first long stretches of playing time[/note] and can switch when necessary to help lessen the impact of screens.

“It helps having four guys out there who can switch,” Brown said after the game. “It helps Joe (Johnson) a lot. It helps the team a lot.”

The four-man combo of Williams, Brown, Anderson, and Johnson was a +17 in 16 minutes together.

Power(ful) Forward Joe Johnson: Speaking of Johnson, here’s Johnson’s numbers since he started as the nominal power forward: 16.8 points, 8.2 rebounds per game; .478-.440-.818 shooting splits, making for a .585 true shooting percentage[note]True shooting percentage accounts for the value of free throws and three-pointers[/note].

Here’s the list of NBA players averaging at least 16.8 points and 8.2 rebounds per game with a .585 true shooting percentage: Anthony Davis. End of list.

Mason Plumlee did it better:

A terrifying Markel Brown moment:

The Nets are high on Markel Brown, particularly after his play in the last three games. He’s proven he can be a disruptive defender and highlight machine. So when he came down awkwardly following this three-pointer, a bit of fear accompanied the play.

Thankfully, Brown was not hurt badly on the fall. After the game, coach Hollins said he elected to keep Brown on the bench for reasons unrelated to potential injury.

Surprised at: Cory Jefferson’s DNP. They didn’t need him, not with the way Thaddeus Young played, but surprised nonetheless. Given that the Mavericks were down Tyson Chandler, I would’ve been curious to see a young 5-man lineup of Williams, Brown, Johnson, Young, and Jefferson.

Lopez, Rested: After Brook Lopez played consecutive stretches of 19:32 and 15:50 in the past two games, Hollins elected to play Lopez just 14:52 overall Saturday night. Lopez struggled to get into a rhythm on the offensive end, and the Nets didn’t need his contributions in the victory. The rest doesn’t hurt.

He’ll Be Back:

Final thoughts: Jarrett Jack takes an incredible amount of contested, pull-up jumpers… Monta Ellis can fly… Bojan Bogdanovic’s poor performance chalked up to rust… Did you see Thaddeus Young play center for two minutes?

Next up: After 24 days on the road, the Brooklyn Nets finally return home Monday, and it couldn’t have come against a tougher opponent: they’ll take on the 45-11 Golden State Warriors, the team with the best record in the NBA and MVP candidate Stephen Curry.