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Nets come up ‘Small’ in Big Easy

Post All-Star Break Win Streak Snapped at Two by Pelicans

February 26, 2015 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Joe Johnson’s 21 points and 10 rebounds weren’t enough to help the Brooklyn Nets win their third straight game since the All-Star break Wednesday night in New Orleans. AP photo
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The Nets were hoping to carry a three-game post-All-Star break winning streak into this weekend’s Texas “Two-Step” through Houston and Dallas on the tail end of a season-high eight-game road trip.

Instead, they got off to a poor start and faltered badly down the stretch during Wednesday night’s 102-96 loss in New Orleans to an admittedly shorthanded Pelicans unit in front of 16,097 fans at the Smoothie King Center.

Down 15-4 early, the Nets trailed throughout but inched within a single point at 83-82 before the Pelicans, playing without All-Star center Anthony Davis as well as regulars Ryan Anderson and Jrue Holiday, pulled away with a 10-0 spurt to end any hopes of a late Brooklyn comeback.

“Missing Ryan, missing A.D., missing Jrue — those are great young players,” said Quincy Pondexter told the Associated Press after helping to make up for the absence of his injured teammates with a game-high 25 points, including a game-sealing 3-pointer in the final minute.

“We’re in a playoff chase and I had to step up,” Pondexter added.

In a desperate race for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot themselves, the Nets found that “small ball” might not be enough to get them past the better teams on their schedule after making mincemeat of the less-than-competitive Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets in their previous two contests.

“We played well. Just not well enough,” lamented Brooklyn head coach Lionel Hollins, who started shooting guard Joe Johnson at power forward for the second straight game and filled out the rest of the opening lineup with Mason Plumlee, Deron Williams, Alan Anderson and rookie Markel Brown.

Williams, who had shown signs of life following the break with strong performances in both L.A. and Denver, had a rough go of it, finishing 4-of-14 from the floor en route to 10 points, six assists and three turnovers in 34 minutes.

The Nets’ bench actually kept them in the game for most of the evening as newly acquired forward Thaddeus Young (19 points), Brook Lopez (15 points) and Jarrett Jack (15 points), who returned from a two-game absence due to a hamstring injury, provided plenty of punch off the pine.

To his credit, Johnson filled the four spot quite handily, scoring 21 points and pulling down 10 rebounds.

But as Hollins intimated, it just wasn’t enough as Brooklyn (23-32) fell back into a tie with Charlotte for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“We played solid,” Jack said. “They knocked down the necessary shots and we just couldn’t get stops down the stretch. They have a lot of good shooters that can complement the pressure they put on the middle.”

Brooklyn’s diminutive frontline was out-rebounded, 43-37, but perhaps more telling was the Nets’ inability to move the ball effectively as they totaled just 13 assists as a team after Williams neared or surpassed that total himself in each of the previous two games.

Brown, a Louisiana native, had hordes of family and friends attend the game.

Though he went just 3-of-9 from the floor en route to eight points, four rebounds and three steals in his second career NBA start, he did wow the crowd with a whirling 360 degree dunk.

“It was fun playing in front of them and I know it was fun for them to get to watch me play,” noted Brown. “It’s my first time playing here since my senior year in high school. So I enjoyed playing in front of my family and friends.’’

The Nets must now visit the Rockets Friday night before a quick turnaround game in Dallas on Saturday.

After that, Brooklyn returns home to host the league-leading Golden State Warriors at the Barclays Center on Monday night, tipping off a five-game homestand highlighted by next Wednesday’s showdown with Charlotte.

Nothing But Net: Brooklyn misfired on 13 of its first 15 shots Wednesday before finishing 39-of-92 (42 percent) on the night. … Young, who may soon find himself in the power forward spot vacated by Kevin Garnett and currently being filled by Johnson, was 8-of-12 from the field with five rebounds against New Orleans. … Brown gave back to his community in New Orleans by distributing peanut butter sandwiches to the homeless
scattered around the team hotel Tuesday evening on Canal Street, which borders the French Quarter. “My friends and family can see me today,” he said on Wednesday morning. “Those people needed me last night.”

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