Nets grind out seventh straight win in Chicago
Brooklyn clamps down on defense to extend season-high win streak
The Brooklyn Nets were an easy team to write off just over two weeks ago.
They had lost a season-high eight consecutive games overall and another eight in a row at Barclays Center dating to a Nov. 4 victory over Philadelphia.
Also, the Nets knew they would be without top scorer Caris LeVert until beyond the All-Star break, after the fast-emerging shooting guard dislocated his right foot in Minnesota on Nov. 12.
Add in the fact that Brooklyn had gone a cumulative 69-177 over its previous three non-playoff campaigns, and it was an easy call to say that this would be a season spent positioning for a high draft pick rather than an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
But none of this seems to have mattered in the least to the players in third-year head coach Kenny Atkinson’s locker room.
“We learned from our failures and our mistakes,” noted Spencer Dinwiddie after leading the Nets to their season-high seventh straight win, a gritty 96-93 triumph over the Bulls Wednesday night in front of 18,065 fans at Chicago’s United Center.
Dinwiddie scored 27 points off the bench and Joe Harris added 11, including a clutch go-ahead floater off the glass with 43 ticks remaining as Brooklyn fought through 23 lead changes and 21 ties against the feistier-than-expected Bulls to complete its longest winning streak since January 2013.
Dinwiddie, a leading candidate for NBA Sixth Player of the Year honors, also played a huge role in stopping the Bulls from answering Harris’ game-winner.
He helped to create one of two turnovers the Nets forced in the last half-minute before sinking a pair of free throws for the final margin of victory with 1.4 ticks remaining.
After suffering heartbreak after heartbreak during their elongated skid, the Nets seem to have been buoyed by a players’ only film session following their nadir, a 114-112 loss to Oklahoma City in Downtown Brooklyn that dropped their record to a dismal 8-18.
Veteran forward Jared Dudley picked apart where the Nets were lacking in either energy, focus or positioning during the impromptu get-together, and the team seems to have embraced the message.
They haven’t lost a game since.
“We lost a lot of close games [during the eight-game losing streak],” Dinwiddie said. “And when you have a lot of guys that are focused and locked in on trying to win and get better and hopefully make the playoffs, you’re going to improve.”
Improving is one thing, putting together the NBA’s longest current winning streak to climb back within one-half game of Orlando (14-16) for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot is quite another.
The Nets haven’t been this hot in almost six years, dating back to their inaugural season in our fair borough, when Brooklyn boasted one of the league’s highest payrolls and a roster spearheaded by once and future All-Stars such as Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez.
“We’re not a team that took those losses lightly,” Dinwiddie told the New York Post.
“They definitely hurt our team, definitely hit us. Because we have a better attention to detail, better communication coming from those struggles, now we’re able to close out games.”
Jarrett Allen scored 16 points and pulled down 12 rebounds and D’Angelo Russell, the hero in Tuesday night’s home victory over LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, added 13 points for Brooklyn, which will look to make it eight wins in a row Friday night against visiting Indiana here at Barclays.
“After [Tuesday’s] win, it could be easy to rest on your laurels, and road back-to-backs have been tough for us,” Atkinson said after his team completed its second set of victories on back-to-back nights during the winning streak.
“If you want to rank the wins, I put this one first and last night’s second.”
Ranking victories probably wasn’t on Atkinson’s agenda a few weeks ago when his squad appeared fated for yet another 50-plus loss season.
Now, the Nets appear determined to continue and complete a drive toward their first postseason berth since the 2014-15 campaign.
“I just think it’s growth,” Atkinson said of his team’s unexpected resurgence. “It’s maturity, it’s a physical and mental growth.”
Nothing But Net: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who was a game-time decision Wednesday due to a bruised left quadriceps muscle, scored nine points and played a critical role on the defensive end down the stretch against the Bulls. … Rookie Rodions Kurucs started and scored eight points on 3-of-5 shooting in 23 minutes. … After hosting the Pacers Friday night, the Nets will continue their three-game homestand against Phoenix here on Sunday and Charlotte on the day after Christmas. … The Nets rank second in the NBA in shooting percentage (49.9 percent), 3-point shooting (40.5 percent) and scoring (121.5 points per game) during their winning streak.
In local college basketball action, sophomore guard Chauncey Hawkins scored a game-high 16 points, but St. Francis Brooklyn suffered an 86-52 loss to undefeated St. John’s on Wednesday night in front of 5,151 fans at Carnesecca Arena.
Jalen Jordan added 11 points for the Terriers (7-5), who had won five of their previous six contests.
SFC will try to bounce back on Sunday afternoon, when it hosts Manhattan College at Remsen Street’s Pope Center.