All it took for the Nets to snap their embarrassing 11-game losing streak was a game against another team that barely knows each other.
As has become their custom, the Nets did not always make it easy on themselves. They were able to stay out of their own way enough to scratch together a 109-85 win over the visiting Sacramento Kings, though.
“I thought we continued to play with the fight, spirit and connectivity that we’ve asked them to play with,” head coach Steve Nash said after the win. “I’m proud of them.”
Monday night’s showdown at Barclays Center hosted two teams that look very different than they did a week ago. On the Nets’ side, newcomers Andre Drummond and Seth Curry both got a start in their Brooklyn debut. Drummond finished with 11 points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes while Curry showcased the type of quick-heating offense that will make him a lifesaver for this floundering team. The younger Curry brother went for 23 points on 10-of-18 shooting (3-of-8 from deep) in his first game with the Nets.
For Sacramento, one half of their new franchise duo was slow to acclimate. Domantas Sabonis, who the Kings are praying can be a playoff-worthy tandem with De’Aaron Fox, had just five points in the first half and nine total. Fox did his part, leading the way with 26, but their supporting cast turned in a perfect example of why the league was so puzzled to see the Kings make a trade deadline push to go all in.
In addition to Sabonis, Justin Holiday was in the starting lineup for the Kings, giving them two starters who were playing for different teams last week, just like the Nets. While the continuity took a while to set in for the guys in purple and white, the Nets had no such problems.
“The locker room is just a great vibe in there right now,” Bruce Brown said in his postgame press conference. “I don’t know what it is. Everything just shifted after the trade deadline. Everybody likes everybody, it’s just great.”
The newly-inspired team jumped out to an early 19-point lead that slowly dripped down to a one-point lead early in the second half. It was then that the Nets appeared to remember these were the Kings they’re dealing with. Led by Curry, who exhibited some Steph-like confidence throughout the frame, the Nets outscored their opponents 25-18 in the third quarter. Curry hit a series of buttery jump shots set up by his expert footwork, Drummond provided a crowd-fueling block on one end and a timeout-inducing dunk on the other end to cap a 23-7 run, and that basically wrapped things up.
While the haters will say that the win was cheapened because it came against a team learning its personnel on the fly, the Nets would have taken a win in any way, shape or form. Whether it was 70-69 or 150-100, a win means the Nets are no longer lugging around a worrisome losing streak, and the raucous celebration in their locker room could be heard throughout the bowels of the arena.
If Curry’s first day on the job was any indication, the team has solved its shooting woes too while also instantly adding a scoring guard who can carry some of Kyrie Irving’s weight during the home games he’s choosing to skip.
“Everybody’s made it easy,” Curry said of his new home. “There’s a lot of optimism with the new additions. It’s been a while since I got up and down the court like that.”
Though it’s just one game, the Nets exhibited an unbridled joy throughout Monday’s win that had been sorely missing all season. Whenever Ben Simmons is ready to lace them up, he’ll do so without the burden of having to be the main attraction. At some point, presumably, he’ll play alongside both Irving and Kevin Durant, allowing him to mostly focus on defense and distribution. Durant’s gravity is sure to make life very easy on Curry, who is making 40% of his three-point attempts for the sixth straight season. The Nets did all of this without Nic Claxton as well, who was part of the active roster but caught a DNP – coach’s decision. The night of inactivity was Claxton’s fifth straight as the former first-round pick eases his way back from a hamstring injury.
LaMarcus Aldridge was back in the lineup after seven games on the shelf. The veteran scorer was dealing with ankle troubles but didn’t show it against the Kings’ frontline. His 13 points in the first half were the Nets’ high and he finished the game with an efficient 19 in 19 minutes off the bench. Bruce Brown, who started the game by canning his first four shots, added 19 points of his own.
A trip across the bridge awaits the Nets now, as they’ll tangle with the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday in a rare road game that will not grant Irving attendance. It is still quite striking to think about how good the Nets can and should be when they have all of their players together on the same court.
Until that can happen, performances like Monday’s are a great building block, both for getting back in the win column and for feeling the positive emotions that come with good basketball again.