Nets embrace the Kirilenko factor
Kirilenko keying Brooklyn resurgence as team lands in London
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry were brought here to make Brooklyn a tougher, grittier team.
Shaun Livingston was acquired to provide some veteran backup help for the oft-injured Deron Williams.
Alan Anderson arrived with little fanfare, hoping to find some minutes at small forward and even point guard, if the Nets needed him to do so.
But Andrei Kirilenko?
He’s been a jack-of-all-trades for the suddenly resurgent Nets.
The high-flying Russian power forward has quietly been doing a little bit of this, a little bit of that, and providing a whole lot of what it takes to be a winning basketball team since returning from a back injury that sidelined him for more than a quarter of his first season with the new-look Nets.
Kirilenko, signed this past offseason to bolster what many already considered one of the deepest rosters in the NBA, is averaging 6.1 points, 3.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.6 steals and just under 16 minutes a game off the Brooklyn bench.
These are hardly numbers that jump out at you when surveying the nightly boxscore.
But since his return to regular action, the Nets have won five of seven games and are only one-half game back of Charlotte for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot entering Thursday’s showdown with the Atlanta Hawks in London’s O2 Arena.
A veteran of 12 NBA seasons and a two-time European Player of the Year, Kirilenko has embraced his role as the Nets’ instant energizer off the pine. He often guards the opposing team’s most potent scorer, battles bigger men for rebounds and still shows the deftness and poise to get his points when Brooklyn needs them most.
The player dubbed AK-47 is finally firing on all cylinders after spending 25 games battling back spasms that threatened to derail his Nets tenure before it even got started. And coach Jason Kidd isn’t taking his contributions for granted.
“AK is big because he knows how to play the game,” Kidd said of Kirilenko. “Defensively on the ball and off the ball and [as a] help defender, his I.Q. of understanding where to be at the right time. We all know he can block shots being the three, being the four. So his I.Q. and his understanding on what it takes to win is big for us coming off the bench.”
Whether he’s frustrating LeBron James, as he did during the Nets’ wild double-overtime victory over the two-time defending NBA champions last Friday night at Barclays Center, or simply providing a few moments of calm during a potentially tumultuous stretch, Kirilenko has emerged as Brooklyn’s security blanket.
“I love playing with him,” Livingston said. “He brings (intangibles) you really can’t put a value on.”
And Kirilenko’s health appears to be improving along with the Nets’ record.
“It’s getting better,” he said of his once-nagging back injury. “Every game, it’s dramatically improving. My movement is getting better, my jumping ability is getting better. I can stay longer, my endurance rate, it’s going up.”
“Sometimes the stat sheet doesn’t show it,” Kidd noted. “But he does all the little things: coming up with loose balls, finding open teammates and also being able to cut and being able to finish plays.”
In a season that began with a potentially disastrous 10-21 mark, it’s going to be the little things that mean the most as the Nets try to reach the playoffs for the second time in as many seasons since arriving in Downtown Brooklyn.
The big man from Russia is ready to do whatever it takes to get them there.
“That was the plan in getting him,” Nets general manager Billy King said. “A guy that’s big enough to defend those guys, athletic enough, but also he gives us loose balls, offensive rebounds, different things. So it’s nice to have him back on the court.”
Nothing But Net: Kidd isn’t buying into the NBA’s globalizaton initiative as fervently as the league may want. When asked about the importance of the Nets’ London game against the Hawks upon landing in England, Kidd sounded less than enthusiastic about the hype surrounding the teams. “This is a business trip,” he noted. “It’s just another game.” … Garnett visited the hallowed grounds of the Chelsea Football Club upon arriving in London, and was given a tour of the team’s facilities as well as his own No. 2 jersey in the team’s tradition blue colors. “This is a dream come true,” Garnett said after revealing that he followed the English Premiere League franchise. … Williams, still bothered by a pair of swollen ankles, did not make the trip with the Nets, but could be back in the lineup when Brooklyn visits Madison Square Garden on Monday for a Martin Luther King Day matinee against the rival Knicks. … Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who hasn’t watched his team play in person since early November, is expected to take in Thursday’s game, which will be televised here at 3 p.m. via the YES Network.
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