Nets display greater balance without Irving
Improve to 7-3 minus injured superstar in rout of Atlanta
With the offseason acquisitions of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, the Brooklyn Nets instantly became NBA darlings this past summer.
Only they haven’t needed either one of those superstars during their best stretch of basketball this season.
Garrett Temple scored a season-high 27 points and Spencer Dinwiddie added 24 Wednesday night in Atlanta as the resurgent Nets improved to 7-3 since Irving went down with an injury with a 130-118 victory over the Hawks in front of 15,694 fans at State Farm Arena.
Durant, likely out for the entire season while recovering from an Achilles injury suffered during last year’s NBA Finals, hasn’t been a part of the Brooklyn equation at all, except for his advice and cheerleading from the bench and during practices.
Irving has been sidelined since a 101-93 loss in Denver on Nov. 14 with a nagging shoulder impingement, which prevented him from even traveling with the Nets as they headed to Atlanta for the opener of a two-game road trip.
The Nets not only haven’t missed a beat without Irving, they have actually thrived in the absence of the one superstar they thought would spearhead this new-look franchise this season.
After going 4-7 with Irving in the lineup, the Nets have won seven of their last 10 games, mainly on the strength of a more balanced scoring attack, improved rebounding and better fourth-quarter defense.
“Last year, everybody talked about our offense, but we were a much better defensive team than offensive team last year,” noted Nets Head Coach Kenny Atkinson after his club recovered nicely from Sunday’s 109-106 loss in Miami.
“I think that’s what really got us in the playoffs last year. So, I hope the same thing happens.”
Temple, who began the year as a virtual afterthought on the Nets’ bench, was the latest Brooklyn player to step up in a starting role Wednesday.
He went 10-of-15 from the floor, 6-of-9 from three-point range, grabbed four rebounds and handed out three assists in 34 minutes, helping Brooklyn (11-10) creep back over the .500 mark.
“We had so many new guys,” noted Temple, who inked a two-year deal with the Nets to fill out a spot on the bench this past summer.
“On this team, our defensive principles are a little different than around the NBA,” he added. “We have a very unique game plan a lot of the times. We are doing a great job out there, and guys are buying in.”
Taurean Prince scored 23 points against his former team and Jarrett Allen added 20 to go with 13 rebounds as the Nets had four starters pour in at least 20 points against Atlanta (5-17), which has lost 11 of 12.
The Nets are also playing without starting guard Caris LeVert, sidelined for the foreseeable future with a thumb injury, putting even more pressure on presumed role players to take the lead.
Brooklyn outrebounded Atlanta by a whopping 53-35, destroying the Hawks on the offensive glass with 18 boards.
“Dominating on the glass — that’s been a sticking point for us,” Atkinson revealed.
“We’ve talked a lot about rebounding the last couple of days, how much that’s hurt us. Collectively, I thought we got on the boards. Even in the first half when we were missing shots, I thought we cleaned up a lot of misses and it was a difference in the game.”
Joe Harris added 13 points for the Nets, who will be in Charlotte on Friday before returning to Downtown’s Barclays Center on Sunday to host Denver.
Nothing But Net: While the Nets will ultimately be better off when both Irving and LeVert return to the lineup, neither is expected back soon. Irving could be gone for at least another week or two, according to a New York Post report, and LeVert, still recovering from thumb surgery, is also at least a couple of weeks away from playing, though he has begun physical activities since having his cast removed.
The Nets will play three of four games in Brooklyn following Friday’s visit to Charlotte. They host Denver on Sunday and Charlotte on Wednesday, and travel to Toronto the Saturday after next before returning on Dec. 15 to take on Philadelphia.
Prince, who played his first three seasons in Atlanta, was traded here from the Hawks for former Nets shooting guard Allen Crabbe, who missed Wednesday’s game with knee soreness. Prince admitted that it was sweet to come back to his former NBA home and have a big night, which included 9-of-15 shooting, including 5-of-7 from three-point range, six rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals. “I was 100 percent motivated, especially (with Atlanta) being the team that traded me away,” said Prince. “That was part of it. It’s sweet to be back. I love the city of Atlanta.”
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