The Sacramento Kings are the NBA equivalent of a dumpster fire, having now lost their fifth straight game. But if you’ve followed the Nets at all in the past two years, you know that any team in the midst of a dumpster fire is a team salivating at the opportunity to take down the Nets.
And the Nets almost let it happen. They certainly came close, as a 23-point lead evaporated down the stretch, and the Nets had to ride some late-game Joe Johnson heroics to the finish line.
There was no real standout for the Nets tonight — other than Brook Lopez’s defense, which I’ll talk about later — but the entire team stood out with overall, constant offensive pressure and smart ball movement in the first half. The Kings looked ill-suited to defend the Nets once the ball or man started moving, and the Nets created open shots in the paint.
There were issues in the second half, as the Nets struggled to contain Sacramento’s big scorers and didn’t get many defensive stops outside of Lopez’s occasional mashing in the paint. This one felt eerily like the 100-98 win over the Orlando Magic, when the Nets barely staved off their opponent on the road after opening a 20-plus point lead. But the good news: it’s similar because they won.
The stats: 22 PTS, 8-15 FG, 6 REB, 6 BLK, 3 AST, 1 STL
Even if you assume Lopez’s offense was always going to come back — a dicey proposition at best — I’m guessing you didn’t expect him to defend this well at the rim against DeMarcus Cousins, who might be the best low-post scorer in the game, or defend Kings attacking the basket off the bounce so effectively. I think he actually had seven blocks, even though the official scorer only counted six.
Lopez wasn’t perfect throughout, and you can tell why he’s still only playing 25ish minutes per game behind Mason Plumlee — his wind just wasn’t there near the end of some longer stretches. But getting to 38 minutes of playing time without completely falling apart is a benchmark in and of itself.
But this was arguably the most encouraging two-way performance of Lopez’s on the season, right down to assisting Joe Johnson on the game-clinching three-pointer.
Lopez may have only had six rebounds, but the Nets again out-rebounded their opponent with Lopez on the floor.