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Nets sticking with the ‘back-up plan’

Brooklyn Thriving With Lopez and Williams Coming Off Bench

December 30, 2014 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Nets coach Lionel Hollins seems perfectly content to let Jarrett Jack continue starting at point guard in place of Deron Williams. AP photos
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If it ain’t broke, Lionel Hollins isn’t the least bit interested in fixing it. 

The Nets’ first-year coach intimated as much Monday night after his new starting five posted its fourth victory in five games, 107-88, over the Sacramento Kings before a sellout crowd of 17,732 at Downtown’s Barclays Center.

With the high-priced (approximately $35 million) tandem of Brook Lopez and Deron Williams again coming off the bench, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett, Mason Plumlee, Sergey Karasev and Jarrett Jack continued to help the Nets close in on the .500 mark entering Tuesday night’s visit to Chicago. 

Plumlee, starting in place of Lopez, scored 22 points, 10 of which came from the free-throw line, and Jack, filling in for Williams, added 16 points as Brooklyn improved to 14-16 on the season. 

Lopez and Williams, thought of as the foundation pieces for this franchise when it arrived in Brooklyn, combined for 17 points, six rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes off the pine. 

When asked if he thought his former starting center and point guard would return to their spots when fully recovered from their respective injuries – Lopez was out with a bad back and Williams missed several games with a calf sprain – Hollins didn’t blink.

“This is the Brooklyn Nets,” Hollins noted. “Yes, [Lopez and Williams] were the starters, they’ve been out and if you note, while they were out we started playing better and winning so why would I go back and change the lineup now?’

Good question, coach. 

Plumlee has posted five double-doubles and eclipsed the 20-point plateau four times in his last 10 games while Jack is averaging 19.4 points, 5.4 assists and 1.6 steals per contest in five starts.

More importantly, the Nets are 4-1 with Plumlee and Jack in the starting five.

“Hopefully (Lopez and Williams) will continue to play well and maybe we will have a good mix of starters and bench,” Hollins said. “Before, we didn’t have a good mix, so hopefully this will help us out. Both of those guys are accepting their roles and are helping us win, and that what this business is all about.” 

Thus far, Lopez and Williams have, in fact, accepted their respective roles off the bench. 

“It’s not that different,” Lopez said when asked if his reserve status was difficult to adjust to. “I just try to come in and be the same player that I always am. I think I try to play the same way regardless of when I’m on the floor. Whether it’s however many minutes, I think I’m the same type of player. That’s my game.”

”We’re winning, that’s all that matters,” Williams added. ”We have team guys. We’re not selfish. We’re not bigger than the team. That first group is definitely rocking right now.”

The Nets forced 21 turnovers while committing only nine Monday night, helping them overcome a 49 percent shooting effort by Sacramento and a 44-40 advantage off the boards for the Kings (13-18).

Brooklyn also outscored Sacramento, 27-16, from the free-throw line, thanks mostly to Plumlee’s 10-of-16 effort at the stripe.

Hollins, long an admirer of rugged inside play and strong rebounding effort from his big men, has clearly warmed to the idea of Plumlee as his starting pivot man after using the second-year 7-footer from Duke sparingly during the season’s first month.

“As long as [Plumlee] stays aggressive and plays and finishes, I’m happy,” Hollins said.

“I feel a really good rhythm,” Plumlee added. “I think that whole [starting] group has a great rhythm, and things come easy when you’re in unison. Guys are really setting me up well.” 

Garnett, enjoying a renaissance during his 20th NBA season, scored 10 points and pulled down eight rebounds while matching a career best with four steals against the Kings.

The team’s most vocal and demonstrative leader is also fitting in well with Plumlee and Jack.

“We’re just playing as a team,” Garnett said. “We just want to score points together. Everybody’s got their assignment – to be aggressive, and I think we’re doing that. But more importantly, we’re competing. I think one thing you see out of us is we’re fighting.”

That collective fight has made it quite easy for Hollins to keep Lopez and Williams on the bench. 

If the Nets continue to thrive with their new, and far-less-expensive, starting five, how much longer will it be before Lopez and Williams find themselves off the Brooklyn bench and on another roster? 

Only general manager Billy King has the answer to that question, and thus far he has remained mum on the interest other teams may be showing on a pair of high-priced former All-Stars relegated to reserve roles.

But listening closely to Hollins gives Brooklyn fans the idea that he would like to base his starting lineup not on previous achievement or payroll figures but on pure effort and production.

“With the whole team the chemistry is much better,” he said. “With different units it’s important as with the whole team and I’ve been thinking that for a while. … It’s been coming and you can see it growing and growing. They are playing for each other and they are playing a lot harder for each other and playing together for each other.”

 

Nothing But Net: Garnett gave the Nets an 82-69 lead entering the fourth quarter Monday night after completing an alley-oop on a feed from Karasev. The rare dunk for the aging but ever-athletic former NBA MVP drew some playful post-game queries from the media. “Of stop it. Are you serious?” Garnett said. “I know I’m like 150 years [old]. I can actually dunk the ball. Damn, do I look that bad out there? I start in the NBA. I’m hoping I can dunk. You can’t start in the league if you can’t dunk. I was in the moment. I keep myself in good shape. Y’all just haters right now.”

 


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