The Brooklyn Nets are on a roll after beating the Los Angeles Lakers in Barclays Center last night. The Nets were stuck in a rut after losing Caris LeVert to injury, but have responded to an 8-game losing streak with 6 consecutive victories.
After a big win over one of the Western Conference’s top teams, what key storylines are there to take away for the Nets?
A statement win
Let’s not understate it — last night was a huge win for the Nets. Not only did they beat the West’ fourth-best team, they beat a team led by LeBron James. Weathering a storm of 36 points from LeBron, 23 from Lonzo Ball, and 22 from Kyle Kuzma, the Nets responded with strong performances of their own.
D’Angelo Russell led the way with 22 points and a career-high-tying 13 assists. Joe Harris and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 19 and 17, respectively, and strong bench performances included Spencer Dinwiddie with 18 points and 6 assists and veteran Jared Dudley with 13 points.
The Nets came out strong and fearless, with second-year big man, Jarrett Allen, meeting LeBron James at the apex of a dunk attempt, and swatting his shot. While Allen came crumbling down following the play, he added one of the greatest players of all time to his ever-expanding list of block victims.
It’s important for a young team to not get psyched out when playing against a LeBron-led team, and the Nets were mentally and physically ready to take home the W.
What to do with D’Angelo Russell?
After the Nets and Spencer Dinwiddie agreed on a contract extension, it felt like the team’s starting point guard, Russell, was the odd man out. With DLo’s upcoming restricted free agency and Dinwiddie seemingly being given the keys, it was safe to assume that the Nets weren’t planning on matching an offer sheet for the former #2 overall pick this summer.
But Russell is looking to make the Nets think twice about letting him walk, averaging 18.7 points and 8.7 assists on 48% overall shooting and nearly 43% from three during the 6-game winning streak. Russell came up big against his former team, showing the ice in his veins after hitting a clutch three in Kyle Kuzma’s face last night.
Russell’s strong recent play may make Brooklyn’s front office consider keeping both point guards around, especially if their cap space this summer isn’t going to a bonafide superstar.
A tale of streaks
Aside from the 6-game winning streak, the Nets also broke their 8-game losing streak against Western Conference teams last night. Their last win over a Western Conference team came on November 9, when Caris LeVert hit a game-winner over the Denver Nuggets.
From losing 8 straight to winning 6 straight, the Nets have the longest active winning streak in the NBA. It hasn’t come from an easy schedule either, with an overtime victory over the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Toronto Raptors, getting the best of the Sixers in Philly, and beating the Wizards and Lakers over their current win streak.
One of the most glaring problems the Nets have had in recent years was the ability to close out close games. A lot of times, Brooklyn will be right there – neck and neck with their opposition – but make one or several glaring mistakes that will cost them the game.
They seemed to have turned the corner with LeVert taking over, hitting clutch shots and game winners on a few occasions this season. But after LeVert was forced from the lineup with a foot dislocation, the Nets reverted back to their old ways.
The Nets held a huge lead over the Oklahoma City Thunder at home earlier this month, and seemed to be hopeless as Paul George caught fire in the fourth quarter and eventually hit the game-winning dagger. After that embarrassing loss, the Nets knew they hit rock bottom and had to bounce back.
Outlasting the Raptors in overtime is no easy feat, and even though they saw their leads shrink against the Knicks, Sixers and Lakers, the Nets’ recent success has shown a sign of improvement in executing in close games, and the ability to beat quality teams on any given night.