Return to Brooklyn with big win over nemesis Chicago
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
After losing 21 of their first 31 games, the Brooklyn Nets are finally out of the red.
Deron Williams led five Nets in double figures with a game-high 20 points as Brooklyn bullied Chicago, 96-80, Monday night to reach the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 5 in front of a sellout crowd of 17,732 at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
At 29-29, the Nets will try to climb into the black for the first time this season Wednesday night against visiting Memphis.
For a franchise that assembled a roster loaded with All-Stars and future Hall of Famers this past offseason for a record payroll of over $180 million, getting back to even hardly seems like something to celebrate.
But considering the high-priced team was on the brink of collapse entering the New Year and neophyte head coach Jason Kidd’s job appeared to be on the line with every embarrassing defeat, starting from scratch with 24 games to play is quite an accomplishment.
Just don’t tell that to Kidd.
“It’s good that we got the win,” Kidd said, downplaying the achievement. “I’m a big believer that you play 82 (regular-season) games, you don’t have a record. Being at .500 is for you guys (the media) to write about. But for us, it’s to get better each time we take the floor.”
The Nets opened their season-high seven-game Circus trip with a 92-76 loss at Chicago on Feb. 13, and were also trampled by the Bulls here on Christmas Day.
The lingering effects of their Game 7 playoff elimination at the hands of the Bulls at the Barclays Center last season were also being felt as the Nets took the floor Monday night with a measure of revenge and getting back to break-even on their minds.
“Obviously, the Bulls, they had our number all year,” admitted Shaun Livingston, who scored 14 points and picked up five of the Nets’ season-high 19 steals, their highest total of swipes since registering 20 against Indiana on March 21, 1989. “We wanted to bring the fight to them.”
Brooklyn did so from opening tip to final buzzer en route to its fifth straight home victory and third win in a row overall. The Nets also improved to a perfect 12-0 this season when holding an opponent below 90 points.
“It was important to get off to a good start,” Livingston added, referring to Brooklyn’s 27-18 advantage after one quarter of play. “It feels great, but again, we got more work to do. A lot left in the season. We just want to continue to remain consistent.”
“We have had our troubles against the Bulls,” added Williams, who helped Brooklyn go 4-2 on the West Coast portion of its season-high road trip with his rejuvenated play since the All-Star break. “I thought defensively we were at our best and that is a big reason why we won this game.”
The Nets held Chicago to under 20 points in three of the four quarters and forced the Bulls into a season-high 28 turnovers.
All-Star Joe Johnson scored 19 points, Paul Pierce added 14 and Andray Blatche had 11 off the bench for Brooklyn, which even earned praise from Chicago center and Poly Prep Country Day School alum Joakim Noah.
“I think that they played really well tonight,” Noah said. "We're disappointed, playing in front of your family and friends, you lay an egg, but you got to bounce back. We didn’t play well, but we’ll see those guys again.”
Though the teams aren’t scheduled to meet during the remainder of the regular season, as the current No. 4 and 6 seeds in the Eastern Conference standings, the Bulls and Nets could find themselves squaring off again in the opening round of the playoffs come April.
Brooklyn is only one game behind Washington for the No. 5 seed, which would set it up against Chicago in the first round for the second straight year.
“It means a lot [to beat the Bulls],” confessed Johnson.
Since Jan. 1, the Nets are 19-8, making them one of the better teams in the East as well as the entire NBA in 2014.
However, they can ill-afford to put too much stock in getting back to .500 following a laborious four-month climb to respectability.
Not if they want to seriously challenge teams like the Bulls, Indiana Pacers and two-time defending champion Miami Heat come playoff time.
“We have overcome a lot this season. To be .500 at this point, hopefully, we can keep climbing, keep building and try and become a better team,” noted Johnson.
Nothing But Net: C Jason Collins, the NBA’s first openly gay player, made his home debut in front of the Brooklyn faithful Monday night, entering the contest with under three minutes to play and the game well in hand. He was greeted by a standing ovation from the sellout crowd. “It was cool,” Collins said of his reception. “It was a lot of fun to get into the game but the most important thing was we got a win.” The Nets are expected to give Collins his second 10-day contract on Wednesday, and will likely keep him for the remainder of the year, barring injury. … Rookie C Mason Plumlee started in place of injured F-C Kevin Garnett (back) for the third time in five games. The Duke product finished with six points on 3-of-3 shooting, four rebounds and a blocked shot in 22 ½ minutes. “He’s a rookie, but he gives us that energy, and guys kind of feed off that,” Kidd said of Plumlee. “He was a plus out there to start the game.” … After Memphis’ visit Wednesday night, the Nets will travel to Boston on Friday as Pierce and Garnett make their second visit to Beantown since arriving Downtown in last June’s draft-day blockbuster deal.