There are two food for thought following the Nets’ 112-100 victory over the Washington Wizards on Monday night – Brooklyn’s fourth straight victory, eighth in its last nine and 15th victory in the 22 games that Jacque Vaughn has coached since taking over from Steve. Nash seven games into the season.
Number one: The Nets’ reserves could be better than they’ve been granted.
The Nets managed to keep minutes relatively low for Kevin Durant while sitting Royce O’Neale (for personal reasons) a second straight game. That’s a plus for the players who ranked No. 1 and 2 respectively in total minutes before Vaughn both rested against the Indiana Pacers on Saturday.
You can credit the reserves for both wins — for Saturday’s unlikely triumph over a rising Pacers team in a game Vaughn rested nearly every player in the rotation; and for supporting Kyrie Irving, Durant and Ben Simmons in staggered minutes against the Wizards on Monday.
Durant, Irving and Simmons – yes, Simmons – were each electric.
After bringing down Capital One Arena with a combination of hesitation, crossover and pull-up that sent Wizards C Daniel Gafford into a split in his DC opener earlier this season, Durant buried his home side with a flurry of goals in his second comeback on Monday night. He finished with 30 points and just six missed field goals, an 11-of-17 shooting night that also included nine rebounds and six assists.
Irving had 24 points, six rebounds and five assists, and Simmons added 10 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
The pair combined for two showpiece plays: a point-blank penny from Irving to a cutting Simmons for a lay-up under the rim; and a one-handed alley-oop Irving initially faked as a lay-up before throwing a short lob to Simmons for the two-handed dunk.
Durant, Irving and Simmons wowed the wizarding crowd all night. But key reserve minutes helped secure the win.
TJ Warren, for example, came off the bench to score 12 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field. Yuta Watanabe missed five of his six shot attempts but found himself on the ground as part of Brooklyn’s closing lineup. Cam Thomas played key minutes to relieve Irving mid-game, and Seth Curry played 22 minutes, despite only having one successful shot from seven tries.
Not to mention Patty Mills, whose veteran leadership and playoff experience may be key to a long playoff run.
“What I like to see is you watch one of our huddles where we use the iPad to see what happened on the front room, and you see the band talking to each other and trying to make adjustments at the same time,” Vaughn said. “We didn’t have that before, and so that communication, whether it was a clip that the guys wanted to see at halftime, we talked, so I think that’s where the confidence grows: being able to communicate, being able to ask questions, little psychological safety where you can ask and not be reprimanded and we try to figure this thing out together.
And then there’s the second train of thought: The Nets have looked like an elite team — against mid-pack competition.
The Nets haven’t beaten a legitimate championship contender this season. They’ve lost to the New Orleans Pelicans, Milwaukee Bucks, Dallas Mavericks, Philadelphia 76ers and, most recently, the Boston Celtics.
Their victories have come against teams that aren’t expected to sniff out the second round of the playoffs, let alone the first, with some teams set to miss the Play-In tournament.
“Favorable schedule being at home for seven of them [eight wins] and being able to wake up in our own beds and have our own routine at home is really important,” Durant said. “We also faced a few teams that were also missing a few guys. For the most part, I like the brand of basketball we played on both ends of the floor. It doesn’t matter who’s on the pitch, we’ve always played our system and done the things we wanted to do on both sides.
“So being home matters, having everyone healthy matters, so we just want to keep plugging in.”
The chemistry and continuity develop. It’s undeniable. The Nets, however, are not aiming to be a regular season team. They want to be the last team standing, which will inevitably require picking up wins against other top teams in the playoffs.
Handling business against non-playoff opponents is a must, and it’s an area where the Nets have failed in past seasons.
Their next real challenge will be protecting the field against Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors at Barclays Center on December 21.
They’ll have two more opportunities to add to the win column before that, with the Raptors and Pistons next on the schedule.
KYRIE IRVING ‘GRATEFUL’ GRINER IS HOME
Irving said he was “grateful” that WNBA star Brittney Griner returned home after being detained by Russian authorities.
“I’m grateful that she’s home, grateful that she’s with her family. Most importantly, humanity comes first,” Irving said. “We all feel for her. who are wrongfully imprisoned or in some kind of prison somewhere where they haven’t gotten justice so we feel for her for sure I’m just grateful that we can all share in the celebration of her presence here and even more work to do in our world.
Griner was arrested at a Russian airport for drug trafficking 10 months ago and was sentenced to nine years in prison. The US government deemed his arrest unjustified. His release was eventually orchestrated in a prisoner exchange for notorious international arms dealer Viktor Bout.
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