Surging Nets deliver ‘The Big Payback’
Embarrass slumping Knicks at Madison Square Garden
Consider the debt paid in full.
Six weeks ago, the Knicks came to the Barclays Center and ended a nine-game losing streak with a 113-83 demolition of the Nets, dropping Brooklyn to 5-14 en route to what would be a humbling 10-21 start to the season for Mikhail Prokhorov’s $180 million-plus team.
“They came into our building and embarrassed us, so we wanted to return the favor,” admitted Andray Blatch after putting up 19 points and pulling down 12 rebounds in the Nets’ 103-80 Martin Luther King Day rout of the Knicks before a packed house at Madison Square Garden and a national television audience.
With the win, Brooklyn improved to 7-1 in 2014, 17-22 overall and moved within 2 1/2 games of first-place Toronto in the Atlantic Division race while sliding into seventh place overall in the Eastern Conference standings.
“I’m just enjoying the moment right now,” gushed Joe Johnson after pouring in 20 of his team-high 25 points in the first half.
“We’ve obviously gone through a lot of tough times in 2013,” the hot-shooting guard added. “The New Year has been good to us. Guys are grinding and the team has been trying to get better every day. We know and understand where we come from, as far as getting this thing to turn as good as it’s been for the past couple of weeks. We know how it can turn and go back. We are enjoying paying attention to detail and trying to be successful every night.”
While some players and coach Jason Kidd shied away from relishing a sound victory over their East River Rivals, one that prompted a throaty “Brook-lyn!” chant in the World’s Most Famous Arena, Johnson admitted that the team had discussed the importance of evening the season series at 1-1 with the Knicks.
“We talked about it,” he said. “Calling it a payback game and we came out and responded.”
Now, the Nets move on to Tuesday night’s home game against Orlando, weather allowing, and a chance to move even closer to the break-even mark after falling as far as 11 games below .500 only three weeks ago with a 113-92 New Year’s Eve loss at defending Western Conference champion San Antonio.
“We are still building,” Paul Pierce intimated. “We have a good groove going on right now since the New Year. The goal is to eventually get to .500 and continue to get better.”
Deron Williams returned to the floor Monday after missing the previous five games due to his ongoing bout with ankle issues.
But rather than taking his customary starting spot in the lineup, the $98 million point guard was content to come off the bench, contributing 13 points and three assists in 27 solid minutes as Brooklyn continued to embrace its all-for-one-one-for-all mentality.
“It was my idea (to come off the bench),” Williams revealed. “We have been playing so well with that lineup. Why shake things up? The way Joe has been playing so well in the first quarter, first halves, I don’t want to disrupt that.”
The Nets’ dramatic turnaround has been most important to Kidd, who was under fire from season’s start for his neophyte status as an NBA head coach.
Though he has clearly gained the trust of his players and finally has them moving in the right direction, the future Hall of Fame point guard refused yet again to take credit for Brooklyn’s return to the postseason race.
“It’s about those guys in the locker room,” Kidd insisted. “They believe they can play both sids of the ball and they are doing it at a high level as of late. We have to keep building on it.”
As the Nets continue to find themselves, the Knicks are looking more and more lost.
New York was outscored in every quarter of the MLK matinee and never seriously challenged for the lead after Johnson’s 3-pointer with 8:16 remaining in the opening period put the Nets in front to stay.
“We got off to a slow start and we didn’t seem to have it today,” Brooklyn-born Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony ceded. “They played to the mismatches. That is something Jason does well, even when he was here. They forced us to double-team and they were able to swing the ball and make shots.”
At a dismal 15-26 and losers of their last four in a row, the Knicks are scrambling to rediscover the form that made them Atlantic Division champions just a season ago.
Perhaps they can take their cue from their crosstown rivals, who are suddenly the hottest team in the NBA despite the loss of All-Star center Brook Lopez for the season.
“We are working hard,” Blatche noted. “We are trying to get better. We dug a hole and now we are climbing ourselves out of it. We are trying to get to where we need to be.”
Nothing But Net: Pierce and Kevin Garnett managed only nine points combined vs. the Knicks, but Brooklyn still cruised to a 23-point victory, further illustrating the team’s depth. “We’re putting games together, we’re putting quarters together. It’s not just one quarter or two quarters or a half. We’re being more consistent,” said Pierce, who finished with only three points in 26 minutes. … The Nets officially announced the trade of guard Tyshawn Taylor to New Orleans in exchange for the draft rights to Edin Bavcic on Tuesday morning. Bavcic, a forward out of Bosnia, was selected by the Toronto Raptors with the 56th overall pick in the 2006 NBA Draft. Since being drafted, Bavcic has played professionally in Europe and has yet to sign with an NBA team. In two seasons with Brooklyn, Taylor posted career averages of 2.9 points and 0.9 assists in 61 games. … They also announced the acquisition of guard Marquis Teague from Chicago for forward Tornike Shengelia. Teague, selected by the Bulls in the first round (29th overall) of the 2012 NBA Draft, has played in 19 games this season, averaging 2.4 points, 1.5 assists and 1.0 rebound in 12.7 minutes per game. Over two seasons, the University of Kentucky product holds career averages of 2.1 points, 1.4 assists and 0.9 rebounds in 67 games played. In two seasons with Brooklyn, Shengelia posted career averages of 1.5 points and 1.0 rebound in 36 games… Alan Anderson, who has been a jack-of-all-trades for the Nets this season, started Monday and put up 15 points in 23 minutes. … Kidd wouldn’t take the bait when asked about the importance of paying back the Nets for the Dec. 5 blowout at Barclays. “It is a game on the schedule and now to turn the page and get ready to play Orlando.”
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