By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
While circus workers at the Barclays Center continue following elephants around with large shovels, the Brooklyn Nets' high-flying show keeps raking in the wins on the longest road trip in team history.
Reggie Evans matched a career high with 22 points and ripped down a career-best 26 rebounds Wednesday night as the Nets pounded the Portland TrailBlazers, 111-93, to improve to 4-1 on their eight-game, 17-day odyssey, tying the franchise record for road wins in a single season with 20.
Evans, the NBA leader in rebounds-per-48-minutes, had nine points and 10 boards in the first 12 minutes as Brooklyn led virtually from start to finish en route to climbing a season-high 13 games above the .500 mark at 42-29.
The Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus was supposed to send the Nets off on a trip from hell after arriving Downtown earlier this month.
Instead, it has galvanized Brooklyn to arguably its most impressive stretch of its inaugural campaign in our fair borough.
To his interim head coach and teammates, taking in Evans' mastery along the boards is akin to watching Bernard "The Executioner" Hopkins rattle opponents in the squared circle, as he did a few weeks ago at the Barclays Center en route to grabbing the light-heavyweight crown.
"Reggie was absurd," noted P.J. Carlesimo after the Nets remained within 2 1/2 games of the streaking first-place Knicks in the hunt for the Atlantic Division crown.
"Watching him play, it's almost like it's a fight," added veteran guard Keith Bogans, who started in place of injured sharpshooter Joe Johnson (quadriceps contusion) for the second straight game. "And you're either going to fight back or give up. And if you give up, he's going to get every rebound."
Though he didn't grab every one, the Nets' rebounding machine has been bringing down all the big ones of late, most notably a last-second carom that preserved a two-point win in Phoenix on Sunday night. Evans leads the NBA with seven 20-plus rebound games this season, but doesn't keep a running tally during the contest.
At least not without a little help from his teammates.
''I just wanted to win, that's it,'' Evans noted humbly. ''But after a while your teammates get to tell you how many rebounds you got. Typical of my teammates: 'Oh, you got this many. You got this many. You got this many.' I just take whatever I can do.''
And to think, Evans put on his virtuoso performance with a pair of infected eyes, blurring his vision but not his bravado beneath the basket.
'If it was golf it would be a problem, but a basketball is a pretty big ball,'' Carlesimo jibed of Evans' less than 20/20 vision. ''He can see a basketball. That's all he needs to see.''
Brook Lopez led Brooklyn with 28 points and Deron Williams dished out 10 assists, but the Nets mostly stood back and watched Evans do his work. Even Blazers coach Terry Stotts was blown away by the 6-foot-8, 245-pound dynamo's ability to crash the glass.
''He rebounds. It's not a surprise he got rebounds. Now 26, that's another story,'' Stotts lamented. ''For him to get three offensive rebounds in the first two minutes of the game when everybody knows that's what he does. We obviously didn't do too much to take that away.''
Neither has any other opponent this season.
Though his 10.4 per-game average ranks ninth on the circuit, Evans' staggering 21.0 boards per 48 minutes are more than two better than his nearest competitor, 7-foot Turkish center Omer Asik of Houston.
"Reggie's an animal," said Lopez. "When he is playing the way he has the past however many games, he makes us a much better team."
Though the East River rival Knicks beat up on Memphis at Madison Square Garden to keep the Nets from gaining ground, and the Bulls ended Miami's amazing 27-game winning streak in Chicago to remain 1 1/2 games back of Brooklyn in the chase for the coveted fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race, Carlesimo's team is gaining greater confidence with each notch it puts on hits belt away from home.
"You have to win on the road to win in the playoffs," noted Carlesimo, who will be headed back to the postseason as a head coach this year for the first time since guiding the Blazers there three times in a row from 1995-97.
"My numbers don't mean anything if we don't get the win," added Evans, who will try to help the Nets secure a winning trip and the first 21-victory campaign on the road in franchise history Friday night in Denver.
Hoop du Jour: Though he stopped shy of clearing G Johnson to play in Denver on Friday, or Utah by Saturday, Carlesimo did indicate that the Nets' shooting guard is almost ready to give it a go despite battling foot and quadriceps problems the past few weeks. "Joe is literally day-to-day," Carlesimo said. "It wouldn't surprise me if he could play Friday and Saturday. It wouldn't surprise me if he played in neither, though. We'll just have to see." ... If the Nets get to 100 points, they're nearly impossible to beat as indicated by their 19-3 mark this season when reaching the plateau. ... Thanks to Evans, the Nets outscored the Blazers, 42-20, in the paint Wednesday night. ... Blazers G and Rookie of the Year frontrunner Damion Lillard, the player Portland selected with the sixth overall pick this past April after acquiring the selection in the deal that sent F Gerald Wallace to the Nets last season, finished with 15 points, four rebounds, three assists and five turnovers. Wallace had a nice all-around game with 12 points, six boards, five assists, two steals and no turnovers. ... After Denver and Utah this weekend, the Nets will actually return to Brooklyn for several days before completing their trip in Cleveland on Wednesday. Brooklyn's next home game is next Thursday against the Bulls in what should be a key game in the battle for playoff positioning.