LeVert scorches Suns in road trip opener
Scores 26 points as Brooklyn plays brilliantly on both ends of floor
With the two top teams in the Western Conference standings looming on their four-game road trip, the Brooklyn Nets made sure to take care of business against one of the worst teams in the NBA on Tuesday night.
Caris LeVert spearheaded the Nets’ most dominant performance of the year with a game-high 26 points as Brooklyn took command by halftime and never looked back en route to a 104-82 thumping of the hapless Phoenix Suns in front of 14,205 fans at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
Brooklyn, which closed out a three-game homestand with Sunday’s 122-97 rout of Philadelphia, kept the pedal to the metal against the Suns, limiting Phoenix to the second-lowest point total in the league this season.
The Nets (5-6) controlled the boards with a 52-49 rebounding advantage, including a 13-9 edge off the offensive glass, and forced the Suns (2-8) into 20 turnovers while committing only 10.
“We just tried to make every shot tough, every catch tough,” said LeVert, who went 10-of-16 from the floor, including 3-of-6 from 3-point range, and grabbed five rebounds for Brooklyn.
“We did a good job of that.”
The Nets knew they needed to build off the blowout of Philly in this road-trip opener because red-hot Denver (9-1) and the defending two-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors are their next two opponents on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
The Suns did threaten a comeback midway through the third quarter, when Trevor Ariza drained a 3-pointer to cut the deficit 63-58 with 5:31 remaining in the period, but veteran power forward Jared Dudley provided his nightly boost with a 24-footer on the ensuing trip.
Second-year center Jarrett Allen followed with a thunderous dunk in transition, helping the Nets pull away for good.
“[Dudley is] doing it in the locker room and he is also doing it with his play because he doesn’t need the ball in his hands,” Atkinson said. “He’s going to space the floor and he’s an intelligent defender.”
The back-to-back 20-point-plus wins are Brooklyn’s first since the 2012-13 season, the franchise’s first year here in our fair borough. The blowouts also give the Nets some much-needed momentum heading into Denver Friday night.
“Not to look forward, but you look at the schedule and you know who you have next and this one is definitely a winnable game,” Nets center Ed Davis admitted after grabbing a team-high 12 rebounds to go with nine points.
“It’s a game we definitely needed to win and handled business.”
Though Devin Booker and rookie Deandre Ayton combined for 35 points for Phoenix, the duo went a combined 12-for-38 from the floor as the Nets held the Suns to 34.6 percent shooting overall.
D’Angelo Russell had 15 points, six rebounds, three assists and a pair of steals in one of his best all-around performances as a Net. Spencer Dinwiddie contributed 12 points off the bench for Brooklyn, which is also off to its best 11-game start since that 2012-13 campaign.
Joe Harris shook off some early shooting woes to finish with 11 points, and Allen added 10 points and nine rebounds for the Nets, who impressed head coach Kenny Atkinson with their tenacity on both ends of the floor.
“We’re growing up in terms of our physicality on the defensive end,” Atkinson noted.
A truer measure of the Nets’ collective growth will come during their Friday-Saturday excursion through Denver and Golden State, teams that have combined to go 20-2 thus far this season.
Brooklyn will finish the four-game trip Monday in Minnesota before heading home for next Wednesday’s game the Miami Heat at Barclays Center.
The Nets weren’t the only local hoops squad in action Tuesday.
The reigning Northeast Conference-champion Long Island University Blackbirds kicked off their 2018-19 season with a 109-76 stomping of Division III College of New Rochelle at the Steinberg Wellness Center.
Redshirt sophomore Ty Flowers, who sat out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, scored 21 points, grabbed 10 boards, handed out six assists and blocked four shots in a dynamic Blackbirds debut.
Senior Raul Frias posted career highs of 19 points and nine rebounds while fourth-year swingman Raiquan Clark led the Blackbirds with 22 points.
LIU figures to have a tougher test here in Downtown Brooklyn Friday night against visiting Ivy League rival Brown.
The St. Francis Brooklyn Terriers are slated to open their season here on Remsen Street on Wednesday night against visiting Division III Medgar Evers at the Pope Center.
Head coach Glenn Braica will move into a tie with Rody Cooney for third place on the school’s all-time wins list with his 116th victory if the Terriers can beat the Cougars.
SFC will also travel to Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts on Sunday for a showdown with Boston College.