Brooklyn looks for third straight win vs. Clippers
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Nets will be bidding for their season-high third straight win Thursday night when they welcome the Los Angeles Clippers to Downtown's Barclays Center.
No, seriously. This isn’t a misprint.
Long-beleaguered Brooklyn completed its first two-game winning streak of what has thus far been a nightmarish campaign with Tuesday night's impressive 104-96 victory over Boston in front of 15,738 fans at the state-of-the-art arena.
More importantly, the Nets got a season-high 25 points from Deron Williams, back in the lineup after missing nine games with an ankle injury, and a solid 22-minute effort off the bench from former Celtic Paul Pierce, who had sat out the previous five contests with a broken hand.
"We're starting to get whole," Williams said after knocking down 10-of-16 shots to spearhead a season-best 55.7 percent shooting effort by the resurgent Nets (7-14), who moved within two games of Boston (10-13) for first place in the mediocre-at-best Atlantic Division.
All-Star center Brook Lopez continued to thrive along the interior, delivering 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting as Brooklyn shook off a slow start to the third quarter by racing past the Celtics for good with a spirited 25-12 burst to close the period.
Last year at this time, the Nets were offsetting a franchise-record 11-win November by going 4-12 in December, a skid that cost coach Avery Johnson his job and temporarily snuffed most of the momentum Brooklyn had built during its first month in our fair borough.
With Williams and Pierce back in the fold, Lopez thriving and Jason Terry (knee) and Andrei Kirilenko (back) working their way back from injury after extended absences, the Nets appear to be in position to reverse the trend from a season ago and give Brooklynites a December to remember.
"We've got to start somewhere and these are two good games for us to get back into it," noted Lopez.
"It's definitely good to have everybody back,'' Williams added. ''Even though Paul didn't start, I thought he came in and gave us a big boost off the bench. It seemed like our energy level was a lot better. More intensity on both ends of the floor.''
Most of the Nets credited their breakout effort to the return of Williams, Brooklyn's $98 million floor general.
''He's the head of the snake,'' Pierce said of his point guard. ''I mean he's one of the most important pieces of what we're trying to do here, what we're trying to build and trying to win a championship.''
"I thought just [Williams'] presence gave the team a lift tonight," added Nets coach Jason Kidd. "We will see how he feels tomorrow and we will go from there."
Kevin Garnett, who scored 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds in 25 minutes against his former team Tuesday, believes the Nets are ready to turn things around following a modest 2-2 start to 2013's final month.
The league's worst defensive team entering December has buckled down a bit the past two games, including Saturday's 90-82 win at Milwaukee.
"Defensively, we have these new principles that Jason has put in, and we are starting to get them down slowly but surely," Garnett revealed. "They are very simplified terms and rotations and schemes, and we are working on them."
With a NBA record payroll of better than $180 million (including luxury taxes), the Nets weren't supposed to be a work-in-progress at this point in the season.
But with the injuries they have endured and the controversies that have surrounded the team, most notably assistant coach Lawrence Frank's demotion, the Nets could ultimately find that their early season malaise was simply a trial-by-fire en route to a rewarding finish.
Of course, that will all depend on how well they play and how healthy they remain going forward.
Nothing but Net: Kidd hinted that Pierce could remain in his reserve role following Tuesday's win. "I liked him being a leader with that second group," Kidd said. "Will it stay that way? I don't know. We will look at the video (Wednesday) as a team and coaches. I will talk to Paul and see what his comfort level is." ... Garnett and Pierce will go up against former coach Doc Rivers Thursday night when the Clippers come to the Barclays Center. Garnett admitted that the lack of familiar faces on the Celtics took some of the emotion away from going against his old team on Tuesday. "Because Doc Rivers wasn't there, it's probably a little less emotional," noted Garnett, who helped Boston win its NBA record 17th NBA title in 2008 and reached the Finals with the Celtics in 2010. "You don't see Danny Ainge sitting ont eh side, you don't see Paul Pierce over there, Ray Allen, Eddie House. ... Those are solid guys that I went to battle with. Other than that, it was another night in the office." ... The Nets have not won three straight since reeling off four in a row from April 6-12 last season. ... Former Nets Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries, who were involved in the blockbuster deal that brought Garnett, Pierce and Terry to Brooklyn, combined for just six points Tuesday. ... Alan Anderson started in Pierce's customary forward spot Tuesday and scored 15 points.