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Nets drop fourth straight to sizzling Knicks

Brunson burns slumping Brooklyn with 39 points at MSG

March 2, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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The Knicks are streaking and the Nets are sinking.

That’s the state of New York basketball since Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving left Downtown Brooklyn.

Jalen Brunson scored 30 of his 39 points before intermission Wednesday as the Nets gave up a franchise-record 81 first-half points en route to their fourth straight loss, a 142-118 thumping at the hands of the red-hot Knicks in front of 19,812 fans at Madison Square Garden.

After putting up 40 points in a 124-106 win at Barclays Center on Feb. 13, Brunson was busy burning the Nets again, knocking down an eye-popping 15-of-18 shots, including 5-of-6 from 3-point range.

Brooklyn’s new nemesis also grabbed five rebounds, handed out six assists and drained all four of his free throws to lift the streaking Knicks (37-27) to their seventh straight win, moving them two full games ahead of the Nets (34-28) for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Quentin Grimes finished with 22 points and Julius Randle added 21 for New York, which hasn’t lost since a 119-106 defeat at Philadelphia on Feb. 10.

“I like where we are in the season in terms of, we know the intensity is getting different now,” Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau said, “We have to respond accordingly and this should bring the best out in us.”

Cameron Johnson soars for two of his season-high 33 points during the Nets’ fourth straight loss Wednesday night in New York. AP Photo by John Minchillo

The Nets had won nine in a row against their East River rivals before Durant and Irving were sent to Phoenix and Dallas, respectively, before last month’s trade deadline.

The Knicks have taken two in a row from Brooklyn since and climbed above them in the standings, with Brunson playing a starring role in both wins for New York.

Brunson put up 16 points in the opening 12 minutes Wednesday, when the Knicks pulled away for good by outscoring the Nets, 47-29.

Though Brooklyn played better over the next three quarters, the game was clearly decided as the Nets were playing for the second straight night and hardly seemed capable of mounting a serious comeback.

“Bottom line is we just have to be better. … We just have to continue to get better, continue to grow,” said Cameron Johnson, who led Brooklyn with a season-high 33 points during the Nets’ eight loss in 10 games.

“I still believe in this group,” he added. “I still believe we have the defensive capabilties to improve.”

That wasn’t evident on a night Brooklyn allowed Brunson and New York to shoot a blistering 61 percent from the floor, including a surreal 57 percent (20-of-35) from 3-point range.

Mikal Bridges scored 21 points and Cam Thomas added 15 off the bench for the Nets, who have been outscored by an average of 21 points per game during their 0-4 drought since the All-Star break.

Durant scored 23 points in his much-anticipated debut for the Suns Wednesday, helping Phoenix to a 105-91 win at Charlotte.

Irving is averaging just under 25 points in his first seven games with the Mavericks.

Though the Nets are still in position to make the playoffs with 20 games left on their regular-season slate, the road to the postseason is getting rougher.

Brooklyn will be playing its third game in four nights Friday in Boston, where the Celtics boast a 25-7 record.

The Nets will be back at Barclays on Sunday to host Charlotte before kicking off a daunting five-game road trip in Houston next Tuesday. Seven of Brooklyn’s next eight games will be away from home.

“The way I’m built, I just look at it as part of the schedule and a tough part of the schedule, but you’ve just got to deal with it,” said Brooklyn head coach Jacque Vaughn.

Nets coach Jacque Vaughn tried to encourage his team after they surrendered 47 first-quarter points to the Knicks Wednesday. AP Photo by John Minchillo

NOTHING BUT NET: The Nets were without swingman Ben Simmons for a fourth straight game Wednesday due to left-knee soreness. Vaughn indicated before the contest that Simmons would be unavailable to the team again in Boston Friday. … The Knicks shot nearly 80 percent (18-of-23) from the field in the first quarter. … The teams split their four regular-season meetings this season.

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