Nets edge Hornets with confidence, 102-86

It looks like the Nets have found their bridge player… (wait for it) in Mikal Bridges.

The Brooklyn Nets took care of business against the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday 102-86. After opening the Nets’ new era of basketball at 1-6 without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, it was Brooklyn’s second straight win – the first time Jacque Vaughn has led to back-to-back wins since the two superstars were in the city. The victory also gave the Nets a 2.5 game lead over the Miami Heat for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.

“Give our guys credit. We were locked in from the start. Our approach was excellent. Our attention to detail was excellent,” Vaughn said after the game. “And we’ve definitely been rewarded by playing pretty well.”

Brooklyn Bridges once again led the show for Brooklyn after their terrific performance against the Boston Celtics, dropping 33 points on another effective shooting line, 12 of 21 from the field and 2 of 4 from three.

Spencer Dinwiddie also had a great outing with a near triple-double: 24-for-9-of-19 from the field, 8 rebounds and 8 assists.

And Joe Harris gave the Nets a spark off the bench with 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from deep. The 18 minutes Harris played was the longest Joe had seen since Feb. 28 against the Chicago Bulls.

“Just a real professional, a real teammate, always ready, and he’s going to give you everything he’s got,” Vaughn said. “And so tonight he was really making shots and was a big part of our win tonight.”

As a team, however, the Nets weren’t particularly efficient behind the 3-point line, at just 27.9 percent. Luckily, the Hornets couldn’t hit the wide side of the barn either, finishing the game just 26.7 percent from three. In fact, neither team was fully competent on the field, with the Nets shooting just 39.1% on field goals and the Hornets shooting a dismal 37.5%. Brooklyn partially made up the difference by making six more free throws.

Bridges was a man on a mission to start Sunday’s contest. He finished with 19 points in the first quarter just on a perfect 9-of-9 shooting line. Bridges were deadly from virtually every spot; he nailed mid-range pull-ups from snake dribbling off the pick-and-roll. He hit a relocation three-pointer on a pindown screen. He even ended the quarter by dribbling over the left baseline in a fade jump shot while falling out of bounds. Behind Mikal’s blistering start, the Nets finished ahead, 36-21.

The second quarter was Joe Harris’ time to shine. Vaughn ran for several plays to get Harris started, and Joe responded by nailing three runs to 3, the last of which was heavily contested. Charlotte, meanwhile, found no flow offensively, and the Nets finished the half ahead 70-41.

Things got interesting late in the third quarter when Terry Rozier hit three straight threes. Charlotte rode 24-2 to cut Brooklyn’s 37-point advantage to just 15, as Seth Curry fired ugly shot after ugly shot and completely blocked the Nets’ offense. Fortunately, Harris suppressed that run with his fourth three of the game, and although Charlotte had a few chances to come back into the game, Dinwiddie hit three timely contact layups to keep Brooklyn’s lead above water from about 20 points for most fourth quarter. In the end, Brooklyn crossed the finish line for its second consecutive win.

Milestone watch

  • Mikal Bridges’ 19 points in the first quarter was his highest points total in a quarter of his career.
  • Bridges has dropped more than 30 points in four of his nine games as a Net. It’s the first time Bridges has dropped more than 30 points in consecutive games. Over the last seven games, the 26-year-old is averaging 29.3 with games 45, 38, 33 and 31.
  • The 41 points the Nets gave up at halftime were the fewest Brooklyn had allowed in a half this season.
  • Brooklyn’s 29-point halftime lead was its second-biggest first-half lead of the season.
  • The Nets turned the basketball over just once at halftime, the fewest turnovers Brooklyn has produced in a half this season. The Nets have had just five total turnovers, tied for the fewest in one game this season.
  • It was the third time this season the Nets had held an opponent to less than 90 points. Brooklyn is 19-3 this season when holding an opponent to 105 points or less this season.

The movie theater

It is therefore quite fair to say that Mikal Bridges exceeds expectations.

Mikal’s mid-range leap was very, very real. He’s shooting 47% from the jump ball as net, good for the 84th percentile, and he looks like a two-tiered superstar. In fact, Bridges has been so reliable from mid-range that Vaughn has taken care of the Brooklyn offense to give him looks from that range with regularity. The Nets opened Sunday’s game with a set that involved Bridges flying over a screen from Nic Claxton on the elbow to enter a fadeaway jumper.

“I know the analyzes with the threes and the lay-ups, but we are basketball players at the same time,” Bridges said. “We work on our games and sometimes you just can’t get to the edge. You can not. Do you know what I’m saying? There are plenty of other spaces on the floor that you could access. And if you work hard enough and are confident enough, these can be your lay-ups.

What’s exciting is that he adds little things to his repertoire with each passing game. Below is Nic Claxton’s ball screen from Gordon Hayward ‘ICE positioning his body so that Bridges is forced out of the middle of the floor towards the sideline. The Nets counter by having Claxton flip his screen 180 degrees to catch Hayward’s body, then Bridges hits a ‘snake dribble’ to navigate to the middle of the floor (snake dribbles are a popular counter at the ICE defence). From there, Mikal rises for a mid-range jumper.

“We will continue to look at the percentages. What we want is for him to keep getting on the rim and shooting three for us. He showed a knack for getting to his spots,” Vaughn said of Bridges’ mid-range shot. “So I learn more about him, about the shots he likes to do. And if they go, we like it.

Shooting the dribble from three-point field is one of Bridges’ final goalscoring challenges to becoming true stardom, as he’s shooting just 34.2% on pull-up threes this season. However, Bridges hit his first back three as a net in the third quarter and it looked…pretty smooth! If Bridges can add that type of shot to his bag to counter when defenses sit on his mid-range shot, well, buckle up.

No word on Nerlens Noel

Adrian Wojnarowski reported Saturday morning that the Nets have reached an agreement with Nerlens Noel on a 10-day contract, but nothing is official yet. The Nets may time the official signing to get the most out of Christmas plays. If so, it wouldn’t make sense to sign him on Monday either. Why waste one of the 10 days on a travel day? According to NBA rules, a team can sign a player for two consecutive 10-day deals.

Alex Schiffer tweeted after the game that he expects Noel to be available for Tuesday’s game against the Rockets in Houston.

Prodigals clash

It was Kevin Durant against Kyrie Irving on Sunday afternoon in Dallas with the Suns beating the Mavericks, 130-126, their first meeting in four years. KD finished with 37 for Phoenix, Kyrie 30 for Dallas. So five weeks after Irving requested a trade, how are things going for all three teams? The Nets are 5-8 since Irving’s last game, the Mavs are 4-6 since his arrival and the Suns are 3-0 since Durant returned from injury.

In terms of individual performance, here are the best matches for players involved in the trade:

  1. Mikal Bridges – 45 points against the Heat
  2. Kyrie Irving – 40 points against the 76ers
  3. Mikal Bridges – 38 points against the Celtics
  4. Kevin Durant – 37 points against the Mavericks
  5. Kyrie Irving – 36 points against the Timberwolves
  6. Mikal Bridges – 33 points against the Hornets
  7. Cam Johnson – 33 points against the Knicks
  8. Mikal Bridges – 31 points against the Bucks
  9. Kyrie Irving – 30 points against the Suns
  10. Kyrie Irving – 28 points against the Kings

Bridges hasn’t missed a game. Irving missed one. Durant missed five games between the trade and his first game with the Suns.

Ben Simmons now has knee and back problems

Ben Simmons hasn’t played since All-Star Break and judging by what Jacque Vaughn says, it may be a while. Simmons has knee and back issues.

“He ended up having an MRI and it showed some inflammation, so that’s what we’re trying to manage right now,” Vaughn said before the game. “We’ll see how it looks a bit day by day, but that’s what we’re managing by trying to strengthen that knee.”

And no, there are no plans to stop it.

“When the back gets better and when the knee gets better, he’ll be with us,” Vaughn added. “We want this to happen as soon as possible, but we also want to take care of him and make sure those two things are good. So if you mean day to day, we can get along day to day, but we’re going to take care of him and try to get him back to good health. We want him back as soon as possible.

And after

Brooklyn travels to Houston to play the Rockets on Tuesday. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. EST on the YES Network.

For a different perspective on tonight’s game, head over to At The Hive, our Hornets sister site.

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