By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Send in the reserves!
While it’s not quite as stirring a rallying cry as the “Brook-lyn!” chants that have become all the rave at the Barclays Center during this historic inaugural season in our fair borough, the Nets have called upon the backups to make a big difference during their current five-game winning streak.
Never was that signal for the second unit more necessary than Sunday evening in Sacramento, when coach Avery Johnson’s surging team used a combined 36 points on 16-of-18 shooting from Andray Blatche and MarShon Brooks to beat the overmatched Kings 99-90.
In front of just under 12,000 fans at Sleep Train Arena, Brooklyn got only 47 points from its heralded starting five, including four from small forward Gerald Wallace, who returned to the lineup after missing six games with an ankle injury.
But general manager Billy King’s next five, consisting of Blatche (season-high 22 points), Brooks (14 points on 5-of-6 shooting), C.J. Watson (13 points), Jerry Stackhouse and Reggie Evans, did more than enough to hold the Kings at bay while handing them their fifth consecutive defeat.
"We only preach team here,” Johnson insisted after the Nets completed their first 6-2 start to a season in a decade. “It's not about 'I,' it's about team and it's about us. On a night like [Sunday] when our big guys weren't in their best form, that's when other guys need to step up."
And step up they did. Especially Blatche, who is only too happy to play a supporting role with a winner after six trying seasons in Washington with the hapless Wizards.
''I'm not sure, but I think this is the first time in my career that I've been on a team that's won five straight,'' Blatche said after misfiring on only one of his 12 shots during 20 spectacular minutes off the bench. ''I'm at a loss for words right now. It's a good feeling to be on a team that has a good chance of winning every game.''
The Nets, who hadn’t won five in a row since 2006, weren’t completely devoid of big contributions from their starters. Deron Williams had 14 points and 10 rebounds despite a bothersome elbow injury, center Brook Lopez added 13 points and rebounding machine Kris Humphries pulled down 10 boards.
Brooklyn’s reserves outscored Sacramento’s backups 52-26, paving the way for the Nets to enjoy their short trip to Los Angeles for Tuesday night’s showdown with Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and the Lakers.
"With the way that we've been playing recently, not that we've been perfect, they're sensing something starting to happen,” Johnson said of his team, which will visit Golden State on Wednesday before kicking off a three-game homestand next Friday against the L.A. Clippers.
“We're still on the ground floor, but something is starting to happen,” noted Johnson.
Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson endured a brutal 1-for-10 night from the field, but hit all eight of his free throws down the stretch to finish with 10 points.
The six-time All-Star, who had been Brooklyn’s closer in wins over Boston, Cleveland and Orlando earlier during the streak, was nonplused by his performance.
''It doesn't have to be Deron and me having a great game for us to win,'' he said. ''We can come at you offensively in a lot of different ways. I'm not worried about it at this point, [my shooting] will come.''
Howard, who has stated on numerous occasions that he initially wanted to be a Net once it was obvious he couldn’t remain in Orlando this past summer, had 28 points and 13 rebounds Sunday as the Lakers won their second straight since naming Mike D’Antoni their new head coach.
"I did want to go to Brooklyn. That's a place where I told the Magic that I really wanted to go," Howard said in a recent radio interview. "But I was traded to the Lakers, and I think it was a blessing in disguise.”
Of course it was Lopez, the longest-tenured Net, who was mentioned as the key piece in any deal for Howard, but the Brooklyn big man remains at the center of one of the league’s hottest teams out of the gate Lopez is averaging 17,8 points and 6.4 rebounds over the Nets’ first eight games. Add Blatche’s 9.3 points and 5.4 boards per night to those numbers, and the Nets are doing just fine in the middle without Howard, even if the Lakers big man is arguably the best defensive center in the NBA.
Hoop du Jour: G Brooks hit several big jumpers in the fourth quarter when the Kings were making a run at the Nets. His 3-pointer with 50 seconds remaining all but buried Sacramento, while keeping Brooklyn within one game of the first-place Knicks (7-1) in the Atlantic Division race. ''MarShon came on strong in the second half for us and was making some really good plays,'' coach Johnson said. ''That's probably the most composed I've seen him play since I've been here.” … While some may have been disappointed that the Nets’ originally scheduled Nov. 1 home opener against the East River rival Knicks was pushed back three weeks due to the havoc caused by Superstorm Sandy, the game is shaping up as an even more compelling event. New York will visit Brooklyn Nov. 26 for the first-ever regular-season meeting between the teams since the Nets completed their move to the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. … The Nets are 4-1 at home and 2-1 on the road entering Tuesday’s game in Los Angeles. … “I felt great,” Wallace said after seeing his first action since twisting his left ankle against Toronto on Opening Night at the Barclays Center. “It’s basketball so it’s like a kid in the playground. I didn’t play well, but I’m just happy to be back on the court.” … D’Antoni, who hasn’t been on the Lakers’ bench yet due to his ongoing recovery from knee surgery, could make his debut against the Nets on Tuesday.