Nets win ninth straight at Barclays Center
Match last season’s win total with 122-117 victory over Bulls
The Nets can go 0-30 the rest of this season and still have the same exact record they finished with during the 2017-18 campaign.
Not that Brooklyn’s red-hot, playoff-hopeful unit has any desire to do so.
D’Angelo Russell’s big second half and a season-best performance off the bench from Shabazz Napier bolstered the Nets to their ninth consecutive home win, a 122-117 victory over the Chicago Bulls in front of 12,726 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center on Tuesday night.
Russell, who watched the final nine minutes of action from the bench Monday night in Boston as the Nets had their six-game winning streak snapped by the Celtics, scored 24 of his game-high 30 points following intermission.
The All-Star hopeful also dished out seven assists, grabbed four rebounds and picked up three steals as Brooklyn matched last season’s overall win total at 28 and remained unbeaten on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues since a 114-106 setback to Indiana on Dec. 21.
Napier, filling the role normally reserved for injured Nets Sixth Man of the Year candidate Spencer Dinwiddie, finished with 24 points off the bench, draining a career-high five 3-pointers as Brooklyn found a way to finish strong against a feisty Bulls team that has lost 10 of its last 11 games.
The Nets, who improved to a league-best 20-6 since early December, were only up by four points entering the final two minutes of regulation before Russell scooped up a loose ball and pin-pointed a perfect pass to a driving Joe Harris to give Brooklyn a 112-106 advantage with 1:55 remaining.
Russell also added four clutch free throws down the stretch to finish off Chicago as Brooklyn maintained a two-game advantage over Miami for the No. 6 seed in the ongoing Eastern Conference playoff race.
“I thought D’Angelo really managed the game well at the end of the game,” Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson gushed just one night after benching Russell in crunch time in Boston.
“They’re double teaming him, he’s getting it out, he’s making the right play — really good.”
Napier, coming off a 20-point performance in Beantown, was just as good when it mattered most.
He finished the game on the court with his new backcourt partner, making a driving layup with 19 seconds to go to give Brooklyn an insurmountable 120-113 lead.
“I understand my role and I understand that defensively I’ve got to be able to put pressure on the ball, I’ve got to be able to score the ball,” noted Napier, who was an afterthought on the Brooklyn roster before a recent slew of injuries forced him to play meaningful minutes.
“Whatever the coach needs at that time,” he added. “I watch the game when I’m on the bench, and I try to figure out what the team needs, whether it’s offensively or defensively, and I try to do my best out there.”
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had 18 points, Harris finished with 17, and DeMarre Carroll added 11 for the Nets, who now head out on a two-game road trip, beginning with Thursday night’s visit to San Antonio.
“Really big [win], especially with the schedule we have coming up,” noted Atkinson.
“We have to take advantage of these home games at Barclays. You look back at the end of the season and say that was a big win, so we knew it was important. Guys did a good job closing it out.”
Whether they continue to play at this torrid pace or not, the Nets (28-24) have already exceeded all expectations for this season.
Reaching the postseason for the first time since the 2014-15 campaign remains the primary goal for a franchise that managed 48 wins combined over the previous two seasons.
As for matching last year’s win total by the end of January, Atkinson remained steadfast in his belief that this team plays best when remaining humble and focused on the task at hand.
“That’s good to hear,” Atkinson responded when informed that his team already had as many wins as last season.
“I didn’t know that. I think that says we’re ahead of schedule, so happy about that, happy for our guys, happy for our organization. I think it’s a good accomplishment so far. We obviously want more.”
Nothing But Net: While Russell waits to find out if he will be an Eastern Conference All-Star, a pair of Nets have already punched their ticket to Charlotte for the festivities, which will take place from Feb. 15-17. Second-year Brooklyn center Jarrett Allen and rookie forward Rodions Kurucs have both been invited to compete in the annual Rising Stars Challenge, which pits the league’s best first- and second-year players against one another. Kurucs will play for the World Team against Allen’s U.S. squad on Friday, Feb. 15. “It’s a big honor for me,” said Kurucs, who was the Nets’ second-round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. … after visiting the Spurs on Thursday, the Nets will visit Orlando on Saturday night before kicking off a three-game homestand next week, beginning with Monday’s showdown at Barclays against the league-leading Milwaukee Bucks (36-13).
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