Brooklyn smothers Orlando, improves to 8-1 in 2014
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn basketball fanatics who were brave enough to weather the epic snowstorm and attend Tuesday night’s Nets game at the Barclays Center were treated to a free Russian lesson.
“Za-shee-ta!” the crowd of 15,482 chanted during Brooklyn’s 101-90 victory over the visiting Orlando Magic at the urging of the scoreboard on Russian Culture Night.
After finishing 2013 as one of the NBA's worst defensive teams, the Nets have certainly turned up their Za-shee-ta in the New Year.
And it’s the main reason their once seemingly lost season has resurfaced and is threatening to bloom into a promising one.
The Nets (18-22) have yielded a tick over 90 points per game en route to winning eight of nine contests to open 2014, moving within two games of first-place Toronto in the Atlantic Division standings while grabbing the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference.
A smaller lineup installed by head coach Jason Kidd, arguably the best corps of reserves in the NBA and a renewed tenacity and attention to detail has Brooklyn thriving following a dismal 10-21 start that threatened to derail the season before it even truly got started.
But make no mistake.
The Nets would still be wallowing in their early season miseries if not for a concerted effort to get back on defense and play both sides of the floor, something they notably lacked in November and December.
"Defense. That's where we set our tone," point guard Shaun Livingston stated emphatically after the Nets limited the Magic to only 14 third-quarter points to take control of the game for good. "It's what we've been trying to hang our hat on."
"Defense," Kidd added. "The whole night. We probably, as a whole, felt that our offense was going like it has been, and the defense stepped up."
Andray Blatche led the Brooklyn attack with 18 points, Mirza Teletovic threw in 14 off the bench and Joe Johnson finished with 13 as Brooklyn backups outpaced Orlando reserves, 52-43.
Coming off the bench for the second straight game since sitting out five in a row with his ongoing ankle issues, Deron Williams contributed nine points and nine assists in 29 minutes as the Nets opened the second half on an 18-6 run to leave the Magic in the dust.
''I think our third quarters have been a lot better," Williams said. "That was a problem a lot in the first half of the season. We just came out and couldn't get going and got blown out of the water. We've definitely been better since the start of the New Year.''
Kevin Garnett, who spent most of 2013 trying to find his niche in the offense and his shooting stroke, collected eight points while hitting 4-of-5 field-goal attempts.
The "Big Ticket" is shooting nearly 69 percent from the field in January, filling the starting center's spot after All-Star Brook Lopez was lost for the season with a foot injury.
"It's a sign we're showing consistency with what we're trying to do around here," noted Paul Pierce, who scored 13 points, grabbed six rebounds and handed out four assists in just under 24 minutes of action. "Not only win, but win pretty convincingly."
The Nets have yielded more than 100 points only once in 2014, and found a way to win that game, 127-110, over Atlanta in London last week.
Next up is Friday's showdown with visiting Dallas at the Barclays Center.
Pierce and Garnett will then gear up for their highly anticipated return to Boston on Sunday. The duo led the Celtics to their last world title in 2008 and also helped Boston reach the 2010 Finals.
On Monday, the Nets return to Brooklyn to host division-leading Toronto (20-20), hoping to move closer to, if not overtake, the Raptors for the top spot in the Atlantic.
Nothing But Net: Brooklyn is 5-4 against Southeast Division opponents this season, but has won its last four in a row, including two wins over Atlanta, one over the defending two-time NBA champion Miami Heat and Tuesday night's triumph over Orlando. ... Blatche is averaging nearly 20 points over his last three contests, combining with Garnett to fill the center spot vacated by the injured Lopez. "He has been big," Kidd said of his backup big man. "Not only offensively, but defensively, he's been big, too. He's playing at a high level. ... The Nets opened last January with a 10-1 mark, a streak that ironically also began with a big win in Oklahoma City on Jan. 2, 2013. This year's run was sparked by Johnson's dramatic buzzer-beating jumper at OKC exactly 365 days later. ... The Nets are two games in front of Detroit and Charlotte, who are deadlocked for the eighth and final playoff spot in the East. ... Brooklyn has won six in a row at Barclays to boost its once-disappointing home record to a solid 11-9.