With the new year fast approaching, the Nets (9-22) began flipping a new leaf with a much needed-victory in Miami over the Heat on Monday. After a dismal first half which saw the Nets down 58-44 at the half, Head Coach Lionel Hollins started the second half with Shane Larkin and Wayne Ellington in the backcourt and it paid off. The Nets tore off a 32-14 run in the third quarter before capping their comeback with a 111-105 victory over the Heat. Ellington tied a career-high with seven three-pointers as part of his 26 points, and Brook Lopez matched him with 26 points of his own.
“We looked like we were dying,” Hollins said. “I needed a spark, and I had written on a paper to take all five starters out. Then when I walked to the court, I rethought that, and decided to take (just) the guards out.”
Tonight, in the last game of the calendar year, the Nets take on the Orlando Magic: winners of six of their last eight games, beginning with a 105-82 domination in Brooklyn on December 14th. The Magic shot 54 percent, scooped 17 turnovers, and outscored the Nets 53-37 in the second half en route to the easy victory. After averaging 21 points and nine rebounds in three games versus the Nets last season, center Nikola Vucevic led the Magic with 18 points in just 28 minutes.
In Monday’s 104-89 home win over the New Orleans Pelicans, Vucevic scored 28 points (14-of-21 from the field), grabbed eight rebounds and dished out a season-high seven assists. The performance marked his sixth straight game notching 20-plus points and 10-plus field goals. Despite having 119 field goal attempts in the six games, Vucevic attempted only six free throws in the same span. For the season, the seven-footer is shooting 47.1 percent between 16 feet and three-point range. Brook Lopez will have to run out.
Small forward Tobias Harris has shot 56.6 percent and averaged 15.3 points per game in this recent eight game hot stretch by the Magic.
Starting point guard Elfrid Payton (11.9 PPG, 7.1 APG) sat out practice yesterday after tweaking his ankle during Monday night’s game and his status tonight is still uncertain.
What to watch for: It’s ok to call them “shooting” guards now! The Nets’ poor three-point shooting couldn’t have hurt them more to start the season, especially for Bojan Bogdanovic and Wayne Ellington. Through the first 17 games, Bogdanovic shot 26 percent (13-for-50) from three while Ellington shot 27.6 percent (8-for-29). The past 14 games, Bogdanovic has shot 44.4 percent (28-for-63) from three including the 5-for-5 against Dallas on December 23rd, while Ellington has shot 43.5 percent including the 7-for-9 spree on Monday.
The Nets were the worst three-point shooting team during their first 17 games (29.7 percent), but in December have shot at a 36.2 percent clip. That’s good for 12th in the league.
Tip-off is at 7:00 EDT at Amway Center in Orlando, FL.