Gaining Ground: Nets close within one game of first place
Though the Nets made no trades prior to Thursday afternoon’s 3 p.m. trade deadline, the Nets stated their case that they remain legitimate Eastern Conference contenders as presently constituted in Milwaukee on Wednesday night.
Deron Williams scored 23 points and handed out eight assists, C.J. Watson added 17 points off the bench and MarShon Brooks sparked a key run bridging the third and fourth quarters as Brooklyn bested the Bucks, 97-94, in front of 14,563 fans at the Bradley Center for its fourth consecutive win.
With Atlanta power forward Josh Johnson and Boston’s Paul Pierce being mentioned as potential targets for general manager Billy King, who indicated Tuesday that the Nets only had a 10 percent chance of making a deal prior to the deadline, Brooklyn’s current cast moved within one game of the suddenly slumping Knicks in the race for the top spot in the Atlantic Division. Though it certainly didn’t come easy.
One night after ending a 13-game losing streak against Milwaukee with a dramatic overtime victory at the Barclays Center, the Nets fell behind early and appeared headed for their seventh straight road loss to the Bucks.
But Brooks poured in seven points during what proved to be a decisive 27-9 run spanning the final two periods, pacing a “Bench Mob”-led comeback as the Nets took command by opening an 11-point cushion with 1:50 remaining.
Milwaukee came roaring back to pull within three and had a chance to tie the game when Williams fouled Monta Ellis on a 3-point try with three seconds to play. Ellis missed his first two attempts from the line and clanged the third on purpose as Brooklyn climbed a season-high 11 games above .500 at 33-22.
”We made it interesting,” quipped interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, who has guided the Nets to a 19-8 record since taking over for Avery Johnson in late December. “We got ourselves an 11-point lead and then did a poor job closing that. It’s hard to keep coming back, coming back, coming back, but we did it.”
While Williams showed no ill effects from the ankle inflammation that sidelined him for two games prior to the All-Star break, the rest of the Nets’ starting lineup was missing in action. Lopez managed only nine points and a single rebound, Tuesday night’s hero Joe Johnson was limited to eight points on a dismal 3-of-14 shooting effort and Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans combined for 10 points and 11 rebounds up front.
Fortunately for the Nets, they remain one of the deepest teams in the league as evidenced by the game-saving contributions of Watson, Andray Blatche (12 points and 12 rebounds) and Brooks, who along with power forward Humphries, who had been mentioned in several of the ongoing trade rumors but was not dealt.
“We were hanging on by our fingernails in the first half and the bench came in and gave us a great lift,” said Carlesimo. “All those guys gave us good minutes.”
Thanks to “all those guys”, the Nets are currently fourth in the Eastern Conference standings, boast a conference-best 25-11 mark against East opponents and are one of only four teams in the East with a winning record on the road (13-12) this season.
Adding Johnson or Pierce to the mix wouldn’t necessarily have hindered the Nets in their quest to fulfill owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s mandate of a conference finals berth during their historic first season in our fair borough, but it might — at least temporarily — have affected the chemistry of what is clearly emerging as one of the league’s most unselfish and versatile rosters.
On the local scholastic sports scene, the Poly Prep varsity wrestling squad, having already captured the Ivy League title for the first time since 2000, had another impressive showing in the New York State Association of Independent Schools Athletics Association Tournament on Wednesday at Long Island Lutheran.
The Blue Devils edged Horace Mann with 252 points in the Ivy Championships on Feb. 2, with eighth-grader John Luke DeStafano, juniors Noah Malamut and Denzel Munroe, freshmen Jake Barry and Lenny Merkin and senior Roman Accetta earning first place in their respective weight classes.
Freshmen Andrew Andrade and Christian Novogratz and sophomores Armon Mazaffari and Joseph Danylchuk all took second place for Poly at the event.
At the NYSAISAA Tournament, Malamut, Merkin and Accetta won State Championships in their weight classes and will compete at Nationals this coming weekend. For Accetta, a senior captain, this was his third New York State Private School Title.
In addition, DeStafano had a phenomenal year for the Blue Devils, winning both the Ivy League and State Championships for his weight class. DeStafano earned his State Championship by pinning his opponent Wednesday. Unfortunately, he will have to wait until next year to be eligible to compete at the Nationals.
“With one of our top scorers, Jake Barry, out with an injury, we couldn’t reach our goal of winning the States,” Blue Devils Head Coach Konstantine Avdeev said. “The kids still wrestled well and I am proud of them.”
Accetta, Malamut and Merkin will all be at Lehigh University this Friday and Saturday to compete at the National Tournament.
Also making news from the Poly Athletic Department, Brooklyn resident Eddie Spinelli broke a 36-year-old record in the 100 meter backstroke while also taking home the top prize in the 200 individual medley during Monday’s Ivy Prep League Championships at Lehman College in the Bronx.
Spinelli, a junior on the boys’ varsity team, earned first place and was the Ivy League Champion in the 200 IM, swimming it in 1:59.14. He then broke the Ivy League Record set back in 1977, in the 100 Backstroke, finishing in 53.23.
Spinelli was also a member of Poly’s 200 Medley Relay group—along with eighth grader Michael Tirone, sophomore Peter Clark and eighth-grader Gabe Mathews—which took first place in this category during the Ivy Prep Championship meet.
“Every swimmer posted their best time of the season in at least one event and many swimmers swam faster on Monday than their prelim time from Sunday morning,” said Blue Devils coach Thatcher Woodley. “As a coach I am extremly proud of my team and the swimmers should be proud of themselves. “
Woodley will take 12 swimmers, including Spinelli, to Philadelphia to compete in the Eastern Interscholastic Swimming Championships.
Hoop du Jour: C Blatche registered the 400th blocked shot of his career during Wednesday’s win. … The Nets are a perfect 8-0 this season when G Watson scored at least 11 points. … Though he’s played well since returning to the lineup, G Williams revealed Wednesday that he will get cortisone shots to relieve pain and swelling in both ankles Thursday. … The Nets posted their first win in Milwaukee since March 3, 2009.
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