The Nets held on to beat the Orlando Magic 100-98 on Friday night on the road to finally reach the .500 mark at 16-16, the first time they have been at .500 since November 12th. They have now won six of their last seven games.
A big part of the reason the Nets have reached the .500 mark is the boldness of Head Coach Lionel Hollins to start Jarrett Jack at point guard instead of Deron Williams and Mason Plumlee at center instead of Brook Lopez. Hollins is not letting what they play franchise players Lopez and Williams dictate who he will play in the limeup.
Plumlee has been the starting center since December 10th at the Chicago Bulls, as Lopez was forced from the lineup due to a lower back injury. In the 13 games he has been the starting center, he has had five double-doubles and scored over 20 points three times, the latest being in Monday’s win against Sacramento when Plumlee when for 22 points on 6-for-7 from the field and made 10 of 16 free throw attempts.
Jack took over at starting point guard on December 21st against the Detroit Pistons, a day in which he had 15 points and 10 assists. This also was the start of this six wins in seven games streak. Jack’s biggest game in the streak was when he had 27 points and 5 assists in Boston on December 26th. In his last five games, Jack is averaging 16.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.6 assists.
Another less controversial move Hollins did was making Sergey Karasev the starting shooting guard in place of Bojan Bogdanovic, who had that role from the start of training camp. Karasev got his first start on December 10th in Chicago, ironically the same night Plumlee was made the starting center.
Karasev may not have the sexiest stats, with averages of 5.8 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.2 assists this season, but his defense is far superior to Bogdanovic. He also passes the ball far more, looking for the open man, be it Joe Johnson or Plumlee.
In looking at the Nets’ 32 games this season, their biggest win early was their 110-99 blowout win over the Knicks at Barclays Center on November 7th, which gave them an early confidence boost and sent New York into a tailspin that has not ended as they sit at 5-30. Soon after, the Nets suffered a tough loss in Phoenix, 112-104, on November 12th that started a five-game losing streak. Included in that streak were tough losses at home to the Miami Heat on November 17th, and a 122-118 triple-overtime loss to Jason Kidd and the Milwaukee Bucks on November 19th.
The Nets then treaded water for the next two weeks, and beat the Knicks again, this time at The Garden on December 2nd, 98-93. The next night, the Nets coughed up a 20-point lead late, but beat the defending champion San Antonio Spurs 95-93 in overtime on December 3rd. The Nets then showed little effort two nights later in a 98-75 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.
On December 8th, the Nets played hosts to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, as well as Prince William and Duchess Kate. The Cavs blew the Nets out in the second half and won 110-88. Two nights later, the Nets lost in Chicago to the Bulls. At this point, the team was 8-12, and rumors of trades for Williams, Lopez, and Johnson were rumbling. At a press conference before their win over Philadelphia on Friday, December 12th, Nets General Manager Billy King said he was not shopping the Big 3, but was taking calls on them, so in essence, they are on the trade market.
The Nets beat Charlotte the next night, December 13th, and followed that up with losses to Miami at home and in Toronto and Cleveland to fall to 10-15. That was ultimately the nadir, as they took advantage of a good amount of home games and favorable opponents to win six of their last seven games, with the one loss coming last Saturday night in Brooklyn against Indiana. The biggest win in the stretch came on Tuesday night when they beat the Chicago Bulls 96-82 on the road.
This one on Friday night in Orlando started off slowly, with the Nets trailing 25-22 at the end of the first quarter. In the second, they opened up on a 12-3 run capped by a Deron Williams three at the 7:47 mark to make it 34-28 Brooklyn. Another D-Will three opened up a 13-point lead, at 45-32, with 2:17 left in the frame, and his long jumper with 6 seconds left gave the Nets a 52-40 lead at halftime. They outscored Orlando 30-15 in the second quarter.
In the third quarter, Kevin Garnett hit a very rare three-pointer to give the Nets a 70-52 lead with 5:26 left in the frame. The Nets closed the third on a 10-2 run, capped by a D-Will three with 26 seconds left, and they took a commanding 86-61 lead into the fourth.
In the fourth, the Nets led 92-68 on a Brook Lopez jumper with 8:51 left. Over the next six minutes, the Magic went on a stunning 19-3 run capped by an Elfrid Payton layup with 2:35 left. Plumlee responded by hitting a jumper with 2:20 left to make it 97-87 Nets, and Channing Frye and Evan Fournier countered with back-to-back threes to cut it to four, at 97-93 with 1:39 left.
Orlando then pulled to within three, at 98-95, on a Payton free throw (he made one of two) with 1:04 left. The Nets’ defense then forced the Magic to miss their next two shots and Fournier to commit a costly turnover with 16 seconds left when it was 100-95 Brooklyn. Payton hit a three with just three seconds left to make it a two-point game, at 100-98, and on the inbounds, Alan Anderson threw it in the air to kill the clock and secure the Nets’ win.
The Nets were led by Plumlee, who had 18 points on 9-for-10 from the field, mostly dunks; 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and a steal. Johnson had 14 points on 5-for-13 from the field, including a dreadful 1-for-7 on threes, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists. Garnett had 9 points, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, and an assist. Jack had 6 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, and a steal.
Off the bench, Lopez had 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting, and 8 rebounds, in 18 minutes. Williams had 16 points on 5-for-10 overall and a perfect 3-3 on threes, with 7 assists and 2 rebounds.