December 13, 2018

Allen Crabbe’s “match made in heaven” could become the roadblock in the Brooklyn Nets' rebuilding plan, if he doesn't find his Brooklyn Grit

Last night was a sad night at the Barclays Center. The Brooklyn Nets rising star, guard Caris LeVert, was not in the lineup as he is recuperating from a subtalar dislocation of his right foot, an injury he sustained on Monday while playing the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The good news is that at this point, he does not need surgery and hopefully, he will return before the season ends. Another Nets rising star, Jarrett Allen, was also out because of an illness. So with two of the Nets best players out, the Nets lost to the 5-8 Miami Heat, 120-107 and dropped to 6-9 overall and 3-3 at the Barclays Center, while Heat’s record improves to 6-8.

Not sure why Brooklyn Nets head coach, Kenny Atkinson, gave guard Allen Crabbe his first start of the season in LeVert’s place instead of guard Spencer Dinwiddie. Comparing the two players prior to the game, Dinwiddie was averaging 13.9 points per game compared to Crabbe’s 6.5 ppg. There’s not much difference between Dinwiddie and Crabbe’s rebounds per game 2.4 vs. 3.3, but Dinwiddie leads Crabbe in the assist column, 4.1 vs. 1.2, as well as in the grit column.

At game’s end, Dinwiddie, who came off the bench, led all Nets scorers with 18 points (6-of-12 FG), three rebounds and five assists in 29 minutes. Looking at Dinwiddie’s numbers for the season, he has scored in double figures in 14 games, which marks the most games scored in double figures for a Nets reserve in the team's first 15 games of a season in franchise history (previously: 12 games for Armen Gilliam in the 1993-94 season). Dinwiddie also leads the NBA in double-digit scoring games off the bench this season (ahead of JJ Redick, Lou Williams, and Jordan Clarkson, who have all come off the bench in 13 games in the 2018-19 campaign).

Against the Miami Heat last night, Crabbe scored a measly six points and one rebound in 26 minutes of play. He also had six fouls, so you know what that means.

So, why did Coach Atkinson shuffle the deck to insert Crabbe in the starting lineup, which may have affected the team’s rhythm particularly when Crabbe doesn’t have the best track record?

“It’s just part of the NBA, it’s part of the deal,” Atkinson told the media postgame. “You are going to have injuries. We have to have guys that step up. I think that a lot of those units that we threw out there tonight hadn’t played a lot together, but that shouldn’t be an excuse. We know each other, we’ve been to training camp, but again I thought Miami was simply the better team. Sure it was the first quarter, but throughout the game, they were the better team.”

The fact that the Nets players and the coaching staff know each other and have watched players over the last 14 games of the season is enough reason to know that Crabbe should not have started to disrupt the team’s rhythm.

Nets forward Joe Harris in responding to reporters’ questions about whether there’s an issue finding a rhythm with the different lineups being thrown out there, particularly with LeVert unable to play, in effect makes the point.

“Yeah, I think it is definitely an issue, but that’s not an excuse for not playing good defense or making the effort plays, the hustle plays,” Harris responded. “A lot of that first quarter was just mental mistakes, lack of effort, and you can’t have that. We should still be able to have some continuity on the defensive end. Everyone’s familiar with what the philosophy is, what Kenny (Atkinson) expects out of us, what the coaching staff expects out of us. Obviously, we missed Caris (LeVert) a lot, and I think that’s reflective in the way that we played offensively tonight. But the defense has got to stay constant and that’s kind of where we lost our way.”

Missing Caris LeVert is natural, but in these situations, it needs to be not just the next man up, but the best next man up.

And, Jared Dudley, a veteran player the Nets acquired over the summer for a veteran voice in the locker room, makes my point on who needs to step up to the starting position after the loss of LeVert.

“I think Spencer (Dinwiddie) has to step up in a bigger role,” Dudley said. “I think you got to be more mentally locked in when it comes to attacking the basket when it comes to not settling, to getting guys involved. I think that’s where we need to take it from here. I think Allen Crabbe is someone who’s very more capable of coming in and boosting up his point scoring, so I think it’s by committee. Definitely, Spencer (Dinwiddie) should take up that role and that challenge of someone who is easily capable of upping his scoring five to six points and getting more shot attempts.

Nets scorers in double digits behind Dinwiddie were Rondae Hollis-Jefferson who posted 14 points, nine rebounds, and two steals in 23 minutes off the bench. Hollis-Jefferson’s nine rebounds marked a season high for him. Shabazz Napier totaled 13 points (his third-most points in a game this season) with two rebounds, two assists, and two steals in 26 minutes off the bench. Starters D’Angelo Russell added 12 points; Harris registered 11 points, five rebounds, and three assists in 25 minutes, and; Dudley chipped in 10 points, five rebounds, one steal, and one blocked shot.

The Miami Heat’s leading scorers were Tyler Johnson, who came off the bench to score 24 points and five rebounds. Goran Dragic put up 21 points, four assists, and three rebounds; Josh Richardson registered 15 points, five rebounds, and five assists; Hassan Whiteside tallied 14 points, 10 rebounds, and two steals; Bam Adebayo, part of Miami’s second unit, accumulated 12 points and three rebounds, and; Rodney McGruder chipped in 10 points, four rebounds, and three assists.

Next up for the Miami Heat are the Indiana Pacers on Friday, November 16, 2018.

The Brooklyn Nets will play the first of a back-to-back against the Washington Wizards in the nation’s capital also on Friday, November 16, 2018. They will return home to play the Los Angeles Clippers at the Barclays Center on Saturday, November 17, 2018, at 6:00 p.m.

Hopefully, Allen Crabbe will find his heart in Washington, DC.

Brooklyn Nets defeat Philadelphia 76ers 122-97 and contained Joel Embiid to just 16 points

It was Marathon Sunday in New York City and the Philadelphia 76ers probably felt like their game against the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday was a marathon they couldn’t wait to see come to an end. The Nets took the Sixers off their game and cruised to a comfortable 122-97 victory at the Barclays Center. With the win, the Nets improved to 4-6 this season (3-2 at Barclays Center), while the Sixers fell to 6-5 (0-5 on the road).

A notable metric from Sunday is that the Nets forced a season-high (and NBA season-high) 28 turnovers on the Sixers, which marked their most turnovers forced in a game since March 7, 2014, vs. Boston (also 28 turnovers). Another remarkable stat is that Brooklyn also committed a season-low nine turnovers, good for a +19 turnover margin, which marked the Nets’ largest positive turnover differential in a game since the 2002-03 season on January 17, 2003, against the Toronto Raptors, which was also +19.

Individual Nets players have been having a great start to this young season, lifting above their own records. Caris LeVert, who has been having a break-out season scored 20 points tonight, his sixth 20-point game of the season (in his 10th game), matching his total from all of last season. LeVert didn’t register his sixth and final 20-point game of the 2017-18 Season until March 19, 2018, against Memphis. And, tonight, he scored 18 points in the first half, which marked the highest-scoring half of LeVert’s career. Keep an eye on LeVert, as he is an NBA All-Star in the making.

In addition to LeVert, other Brooklyn Nets scoring leaders are part of the team’s young core. Starting PG D’Angelo Russell, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, each scored 21 points. Hollis-Jefferson, who is coming back from injury, was part of the second-unit and added six rebounds and three assists to his total, while Russell added six assists and just one turnover in his 25 minutes on the floor. Starting center, Jarrett Allen, in his second year with Nets and the NBA, registered a double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds. This is Allen’s third double-double of the season, an improvement over his total four double-doubles in his rookie season. Spencer Dinwiddie, also part of the second unit tonight, tallied 12 points and eight assists; while Joe Harris, as a starter, chipped in 11 points and three assists.

For years, the Nets’ Achilles heel has been the third quarter. But not tonight, as Brooklyn scored 41 points in the third quarter alone, which wasn’t lost on Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson.

“That’s where you’re like, decent first half,” Atkinson stated. “The third quarter is going to decide where the game goes. So, again, we made shots too. That helps a ton. I think we scored 41 points in the third quarter and kept our defense sharp. And like we talked about before the game, closing a really good team out, that’s the tough part. So I thought we handled that. I thought we were really good to finish it out.”

“We wanted to close them out in that third,” LeVert added regarding the Nets scoring 41 points in the third quarter. “We knew it could go either way, they could make a run or we could make a run, and we wanted to throw the first punch there.”

VIDEO: IN HIS OWN WORDS: CARIS LEVERT

The Nets had only nine turnovers versus the 76ers’ 27, an indicator that Brooklyn handled the ball well while putting defensive pressure on Philadelphia.

“I don’t know the numbers…,” Russell responded. “But as far as getting in the passing lane, anticipating passes and anticipating their plays, we did a good job of that.”

“Defensively, Brooklyn was good and we were not,” stated Brett Brown, head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers. “I give Brooklyn credit.”

Philadelphia did take the first quarter, leading the Nets 21-18. Even at the end of the first half, no one could see a slaughter-fest in the making, with the Nets having a four-point lead of 51- 47. Additionally, the Nets have a history of collapsing in the third quarter. But, not tonight, the second half just didn’t go right for the Philadelphia 76ers, which left Coach Brown befuddled, the Nets ended the third stanza 92-75, and the final quarter 122-97.

“I think it was a combination of some frustration on offense and with our inability, at times, to guard them one-on-one,” Brown said about what didn’t go right in the second half. “Brooklyn did a good job of making shots. I thought they did a really good job of hitting rollers and finishing or throwing lobs for dunks. In general, it was a poor performance that was unexpected and nobody is going to overreact to it, but that’s the lay of the land. That’s what happened. That’s the way I see it.”

Philadelphia scoring leaders were Ben Simmons with 20 points, 12 rebounds, four steals, and three assists. Joel Embiid registered 16 points, 15 rebounds, and four assists. JJ Redick scored 15 points in 27 minutes off the bench. Dario Saric added 14 points and three rebounds, and; Landry Shamet came off the bench to chip in 12 points.

The Sixers will travel to Indiana to take on the Pacers on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Nets will embark on a four-game road trip (their second-longest road trip of the season), beginning on Tuesday night in Phoenix to play the Phoenix Suns.

The next time the Nets will play at home at the Barclays Center will be on Wednesday, November 14, 2018, at 7:30 p.m., against the Miami Heat.

 

TIP INS - The Nets Moving in the Right Direction:

• The Nets scored 39 points off Philadelphia’s 28 turnovers, which marked their most points scored off an opponent’s turnovers since the 2002-03 season (47 points on 11/22/02 vs. Cleveland).

• Brooklyn’s nine turnovers were good for a +19 turnover margin, which marked the Nets’ largest positive turnover differential in a game since the 2002-03 season (+19 on 1/17/03 vs. Toronto).

• The Nets registered a season-high 70 points in the paint, which marked their most points in the paint in a game since the 2016-17 Season (72 points in the paint on 4/1/17 vs. Orlando).

• The Nets have recorded 60+ points in the paint three times through 10 games after doing so twice all of last season.

• Brooklyn tallied 41 points in the third quarter, which marked the Nets’ highest-scoring quarter of the season and their third-highest-scoring third quarter in Barclays Center history (since the start of the 2012-13 season).

• The Nets improved to 9-4 all-time against the Sixers at Barclays Center, matching their most wins against any opponent at Barclays Center (also: nine wins over the Orlando Magic).

Caris LeVert leads Brooklyn Nets to victory over the New York Knicks with 28 points, six rebounds, and five assists

There’s no party like a Brooklyn Nets party when the Brooklyn Nets party doesn’t stop! Now that’s a take on the saying about an old-school party. In this case, on Friday night, the party was at the Barclays Center and the Brooklyn Nets didn’t stop even against adversity and kept it going until the end. It was a close call, but at the end of the night, the Brooklyn Nets dropped their crosstown rival, the New York Knicks, 107-105, improving their record to 1-1 and 1-0 at home.

Now, this was no walk in the park for the Nets, as they saw a comfortable 12-point lead rapidly diminish to seven in the second quarter ending the first-half 50-57. Overall, the lead changed 13 times and nine times the score was tied. The moral of this story, don’t lose faith when your lead evaporates, keep grinding until the end.

From 5:57 minutes in the third quarter until the end, the Nets found themselves in the hole seven times. Here’s where you can visualize everyone on their feet, at 15.9 seconds left in regulation, Knicks center Eric Kanter hits a free throw to tie the game at 105-105. The Nets call a timeout. The game resumes and Nets guard Caris LeVert hits a driving layup over Knicks forward Lance Thomas, which put the Nets up 107-105 with one-second left in regulation. The Knicks call a timeout and when the play is resumed, Knicks guard Tim Hardaway, Jr. hurls a 31-foot three-point jump shot with .4 seconds left on the clock, the ball bounces off the rim. The Knicks rebound with .1 seconds left. The horn blows before any action could be taken. The Brooklyn Nets eke out a win and Nets fans have a 107-105 home victory to celebrate.

Statistically speaking, to show the significance of the Nets’ start tonight, Brooklyn shot .700 (14-of-20) in tonight’s first quarter, leading the Knicks 33-24. The Nets’ .700 first-quarter field goal percentage was higher than any of their first quarter field goal percentages all of last season and marked Brooklyn's highest field goal percentage in an opening period since April 4, 2017, at Philadelphia (.714).

Additionally, the Nets edged out the Knicks 22-14 in assists.

The Nets also out-rebounded the Knicks 55-36 in tonight’s win led by double-digit rebound performances from center Jarrett Allen, who is a sophomore in the NBA and center Ed Davis. Allen posted 11 rebounds; while Ed Davis, who the Nets acquired from Portland over the summer, is known as an efficient rebounder and is already paying dividends. Davis came off the bench crashing the boards with 10 rebounds and five points in 14 minutes. Since entering the league (2010-11), no player has recorded more rebounds off the bench than Davis (2,949).

The Nets’ improved rebounding did not go unnoticed by Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson.

“Huge, I thought we did a really good job,” Atkinson stated in a way that Nets reporters don’t get to hear too often. “They had that one stretch in the fourth quarter where they grabbed five or six in a row, but besides that, guys were really helping us there. Jarrett Allen had 11 rebounds. That’s what we asked of him. We asked him to improve. I think against Detroit he had 10, so he’s heavy into 10, 11, 12, 13 rebounds to make another step as a defensive player.”

In contrast to the Knicks, the Nets had four starters scoring in double digits and two off the bench. Caris LeVert, whom most believe will have a transcendent season, barring injury, led the Nets with a career-high 28 points, six rebounds, and five assists.

Coach Atkinson could not have been more pleased about LeVert’s performance tonight.

“Heck of a job,” Atkinson stated in a way that reporters covering the Nets don’t get to hear too often. “Heck of a battle on both ends of the floor. I’ll tell you what, I thought he made, especially at the end, made (Tim) Hardaway (Jr.) work for his shots. He was our leader tonight, and he said after the game ‘Coach I owe you one from the Detroit game.’ So, great game, but that was a heck of a finish at the end.”

VIDEO: In His Own Words: Brooklyn Nets Head Coach Kenny Atkinson

 

As one could imagine, with seconds left on the clock and a win or lose play outcome on the line, LeVert was singularly focused on the victory when he saw Atkinson had drawn up the play for him.

“I just wanted to get the shot that I wanted,” LeVert told the media postgame in the locker room. “I wanted to get the last shot. Unfortunately, I think there was a second left, but I wanted to get the last shot. I wanted to get the shot that I wanted to get.”

LeVert's performance didn't go unnoticed by Knicks head coach David Fizdale.

"He's a good player," Fizdale stated. "He's an explosive athlete. He can really put the ball on the floor. His three-ball has improved tremendously. He's competitor. I know that he and Timmy (Tim Hardaway, Jr.), that old Michigan connection, that gets them going. That kid can play and I think he's going to have a breakout year this year."

VIDEO: In His Own Words: Brooklyn Nets Guard, Caris LeVert

LeVert’s tag-team partner, center Jarret Allen, contributed 15 points and four blocks in addition to his 11 rebounds. Allen’s four blocks tonight followed his four blocks in the season opener in Detroit on Wednesday, making him the first player in franchise history to record four blocks in each of the first two games of a season. He also became the first player since Tim Duncan (2003-04 season) to register a double-double and four blocks in each of the first two games of an NBA season. The last three NBA players to do so prior to Duncan were: Dikembe Mutombo (1999-00), David Robinson (1994-95) and Hakeem Olajuwon (1992-93). Can you say Hall of Fame greatness in the making!

Additionally, for the Nets, D’Angelo Russell scored 15 points and piled on six assists and five boards. Two players scoring 11 points each were Joe Harris and rookie Rodions Kurucs of the secondary unit. Kurucs also added five rebounds, while Harris added four boards. Spencer Dinwiddie, who was rumored to be a trade option for Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler, chipped in 10 points, six assists, and three rebounds off the bench.

Kevin Knox, a rookie that the Knicks selected in the 2018 NBA Draft, whom Knicks Nation is watching like a hawk, showed flashes of brilliance again in his second NBA game. Knox was one of three Knicks players that scored in double digits, scoring 17 points and six rebounds off the bench. The other two Knicks scoring leaders were starters Enes Kanter, as expected, with 29 points and 10 rebounds, and Tim Hardaway, Jr. also with 29 points. It’s important to note that Hardaway Jr. had no assists.

And, if you’re keeping Nets vs. Knicks overall scoring records, the Knicks only have four wins over the Nets at 98-94.

Nets fans revel in this victory because your team will be on the road tomorrow for Game Three of this NBA season and the first of its 14 back-to-back games for the 2018-19 Season. The Nets will take on the Indiana Pacers, a team that many prognosticators believe, based on last season’s performance, will be an NBA Eastern Conference playoff contender.

See you at the Barclays Center on Sunday, October 28, 2018, at 5:00 p.m., the next time the Nets play at home when they take on the NBA champions, the Golden State Warriors.

Brooklyn Nets host more than basketball, the game featured Russian Culture Night and a welcome back to Brooklyn for Lance Stephenson 

On a game night when the Brooklyn Nets hosted an Evening of Russian Culture, the team needed a fourth-quarter rush to prevail for its sixth straight victory over the scorching Indiana Pacers, who came in on this late Sunday night riding its own four-game winning streak. These two streaking teams could possibly see each other in the playoffs. Way too early to say, but right now if the playoffs started today the Nets would be the fourth seed and the Pacers would be the third seed. Also, the Nets and Pacers present great match-ups of all-star caliber players Joe Johnson vs. Paul George and Brook Lopez vs. Roy Hibbert.

This was no ordinary night at the Barclays Center, there was a great team matchup inter-weaved with two big stories: Russian Culture Night and the homecoming of Lance Stephenson.

Russian Culture Night envisioned by Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, the Barclay's Center was packed with thousands of Russian-Americans waving the Russian flag. Among the Russians highlighted this night were Oleg Kolomyets who brought a lot of energy introducing the players on both teams and Alexander Markov, a violinist, who did a stunning job with the American National Anthem and at the halftime show with a glow-in-the-dark violin and bow performance.

The other half of the biggest story of the night was the homecoming of one of the most successful New York City high school basketball players in PSAL history. Pacers starting shooting guard Lance Stephenson of Abraham Lincoln High School was coming into Barclays with a season-high 39 minutes, 17 points, and four steals in a win against the Bobcats. Stephenson's improved play definitely caught the attention of Brooklyn Nets Interim Head Coach PJ Carlesimo who clearly knows a lot about New York City players. After all, Carlesimo played college ball at Fordham University in the Bronx, NY and he coached men's college basketball at Wagner College on Staten Island. At the pregame press conference, P.J. Carlesimo illustrated his knowledge about Lance and the history of New York City basketball.

"I have followed Lance Stephenson a lot," said Coach Carlesimo. "He has really improved from last year. He has really matured doing the little things that are helping his team win games."

"I recall not only watching the PSAL, and CHSAA but also the CYO leagues. Brooklyn is a big city they also have talent that even pre-dates me, Billy Cunningham, and Connie Hawkins," Coach Carlesimo added.

Unfortunately, due to a re-aggravated toe injury in the first quarter, Lance Stephenson's storied homecoming was short-lived, as he only played six minutes. However, taking the spotlight was tri-state area star, Teaneck, NJ David West of the Pacers who was coming off his first career triple-double (14,12,10). West gave the Nets problems for the first three quarters. West had 23 points at the end of the third quarter keeping the Nets down by six.

Nevertheless, the fourth quarter was an entirely different story for Nets.

Защита is Russian for defense and it was chanted over the surround sound at the Barclays Center, which seemed to help the Nets defense. The defense then sparked the offense, which guided the Nets turnaround. P.J. Carlesimo sent a furious double team commanded by Kris Humphries to shut down West. Pacers could not adjust and ended up shooting three for twenty-two in the fourth quarter prompting a 17-0 run by the Nets. A strong fourth quarter performance by the Nets big three, Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, and Brook Lopez really put Brooklyn over the top scoring 22, 20, and 15 (ten in the fourth quarter) respectively. All three players talked about how they are starting to gel which allows them to be more aggressive.

With a final game score of Nets 97 – Pacers 86, the Nets have no time to rest. On Tuesday, January 15, it faces the team in which it grand opened the Barclays Center--- the Toronto Raptors. The Nets look to extend its winning streak to seven and improve to 9-1 under interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo.

Kris Humphries' start and season-high scoring for Brooklyn Nets become a footnote with the Boston Marathon Bombing in the backdrop 

With the events still emerging from the bombing in Boston during the marathon, it was hard to think that a basketball game which meant nothing to either team still had to be played. With at least three people dead and many more injured, the NBA moved swiftly in canceling the game Tuesday night between the Boston Celtics and Indiana Pacers. Security concerns reached as far as the Barclays Center, as lines entering were longer than usual with everyone being frisked and bags were checked. There were more than the usual number of bomb-sniffing dogs both inside and outside of the arena. If the horrible news was not on the forefront of the players and fans, the news that the Brooklyn Nets actually started Kris Humphries would have been.

After the Nets held a moment of silence for the victims of the Boston Marathon, with their playoff spot already established and only one more game left in the regular season (Wednesday home against Detroit), Brooklyn took a page out of the San Antonio Spurs book by sitting their five regular starters against a Washington Wizards team with a record of 29-51. The Wizards took advantage right from the start jumping out to a 17-point lead (30-13) after Brooklyn got within six (13-7). Cartier Martin leading the Wizards with nine first period points. Someone forgot to tell the Nets second string to play defense as they allowed Washington to shoot an eye-opening 70% from the floor including 75% from 3-point land.

Brooklyn made a game of it in the second period closing the gap to six points, as both of their units came to life. After not scoring a single point off the bench in the first period, the Nets bench contributed 13 points while the Washington starters scored only 4. Humphries, who has become the forgotten Net, led all scorers with 11 first-half points as Brooklyn closed the halftime deficit to 56-50.

Behind Andray Blatche and Humphries (season high) scoring 20 points each, the Nets came from behind to defeat the Wizards 106-101 as seven Brooklynites scored in double figures. Rarely used rookies Tornike Shengelia finished with career highs in points (11), rebounds (11), and minutes (25:25) along with Tyshawn Taylor chipping in 14.

Given the events of the day and with the United States having to deal with what appeared to be the first terrorist attack since 9/11/01, the results of the basketball game was pretty much inconsequential. Even if Kris Humphries was in the starting line-up.

Lance Stephenson helps Indiana Pacers overwhelm New York Knicks for a shot at the NBA Eastern Conference Finals

For the umpteenth time, the New York Knicks have disappointed basketball fans all across the world when they were defeated by the Indiana Pacers, 106-99 in Indianapolis on Saturday. Despite New York’s once again failed attempt to make it to an NBA Conference finals game, the city continues to shine with one Brooklyn-native hero, Lance Stephenson.

Stephenson carried the Pacers on his back throughout Game 6 and scored a career-high 25 points. The 22-year-old third-year professional basketball player who was drafted in 2010 as a freshman at the University of Cincinnati seems to have never forgotten the city he came from. On his Twitter page, his background image is the backdrop of his neighborhood--Coney Island.

Three years ago Larry Bird, the former Pacers president saw something special in the then-19-year-old young man out of college and decided to draft the guard, giving him the perfect balance of tough love, structure, and discipline.

A year ago, Stephenson a protege of Lincoln High School in Brooklyn was considered a joke and an immature basketball player. During a semifinal conference game against Miami last year, television cameras caught Stephenson redhanded--mimicking a choke hold sign at Lebron James.

But even in the midst of his boyish tactics, Bird still believed in Stephenson and treated him like a son.

“I'm so blessed I want to thank GOD, my family, my kids, my team, LARRY BIRD, Pacers fans and everyone that believed in me. Thanks,” Stephenson tweeted on Saturday.

Bird’s faith in Stephenson has gone a long way as he will join his team in attempting to defeat the reigning national champions. Indiana will play Miami Wednesday evening.

Nets get a red-hot burst of 24 points from D’Angelo Russell in the first quarter, but could not overcome Raptors’ energy force in second-half

For Brooklyn Nets fans, Tuesday night started off with a D’Angelo Russell show. Russell, with a little help from his teammates, scored 24 points in the first quarter against the Toronto Raptors, on 7-of-8 shooting from 3-point range and 3-of-3 from the free-throw line. Russell was on fire!

And, of course, postgame, D’Angelo Russell’s assessment of his first quarter performance was what inquiring minds wanted to know

“My teammates, they got me open,” Russell told the media postgame in the Nets locker room. “Transition – they found me, they made the extra pass to me. Give a lot of credit to them.”

Shout out to Spencer Dinwiddie, as three of his five assists went to Russell during the first quarter.

Brooklyn made nine threes in the first quarter, which marked a new franchise-record for 3-pointers made in a quarter. The Nets ended the first quarter up by eight points 40-32, and Brooklyn closed out the first-half up by 10 with a score of 67-57. The 67 points marked the most points scored by the Nets in a first half this season and the most points the Nets have ever scored in a first half against the Raptors.

But, then came the third quarter when the Raptors added 30 points to its ledger and the Nets only added 18 points, putting Toronto in the lead by two, 87-85. A two-point deficit at the end of the third stanza for the Nets, that’s not so bad. But then the Nets had few answers in the final quarter, and the Raptors just ran away with the game, gaining their ninth straight win, 116-102.

So, what did Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson have to say about the Raptor’s turnaround in the second-half?

“I thought (Fred) VanVleet came in and changed the game,” Atkinson responded. “I just think his pressure, his aggressiveness, his grit, he really changed the game. I think behind him, they have two big-time rim protectors in (Serge) Ibaka and (Jonas) Valanciunas, which allows them to be aggressive on the perimeter and that’s why they are a heck of a defensive team. I think a sign of a great team is a team that can beat you in different ways. I thought we did a good job on (Kyle) Lowry and (DeMar) DeRozan considering the great players they are, and Valanciunas had a great game. I thought CJ Miles – those three threes. We foul him once, give three free throws and then he hits two threes. That got the separation there.”

Kenny Atkinson's Assessment of the Nets' Performance against the Toronto Raptors

“I thought our guys, I thought we were aggressive,” Atkinson continued. “I thought we competed, I thought we were in it and it just slipped away at the end. We missed some shots, some bunnies, some shots I thought we had a good shot at making and they come down and they made their shots. That’s how the separation – I’m a little disappointed the score says what it says because I thought the game was closer than that. I thought we were in it pretty much the whole game and then, bang, that’s how explosive they are.”

Indeed, the Raptors were explosive. They had no other choice, as they are trying to hold on to their first-place standing in the NBA Eastern Conference.

For Toronto Raptors head coach Dwayne Casey, the second-half defensive adjustments were critical and necessary, and he didn’t mince any words

“It’s something called hard play,” Casey told reporters postgame about his team’s second-half adjustments. “It’s amazing how those two words impact the game. That’s the thing we need to start the game with. Our disposition to start the game was not good. We just talked about it in there, our starters need to come out with a better disposition, a hungrier mentality and understand they are going to get the other team’s best shots. Those shots that D’Angelo Russell made at the start of the game, we can’t let somebody come in and get hot like that. It starts from the first play. We can’t play our way into the game and put taxing minutes on our bodies trying to come back. We have to do better.”

And, Russell agrees that Toronto made those necessary adjustments after the break to contain him and the Nets.

“They trapped me, forced me to pass it,” Russell said explaining the Raptors’ defensive adjustments in the second-half. “We just missed shots down the stretch. I think if we make those shots it might be a different game.”

Russell scored a game-high 32 points (10-of-22 FG, 7-of-12 3FG, 5-of-5 FT) with a team-high-tying seven rebounds, one steal, and two blocks in 35 minutes against the Raptors on Tuesday. This was Russell’s third game of 30-plus points this season, and his 32 points on Tuesday against the Raptors marked the second-most points he has scored in a game this season. He scored a season-high 33 points on Halloween 2017 against the Phoenix Suns.

Other leading scorers for the Nets on Tuesday night against the Raptors were Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Caris LeVert, and Dante Cunningham. Hollis-Jefferson totaled 19 points, seven rebounds, two assists, one steal and one block in 27 minutes off the bench. LeVert recorded 11 points, three rebounds, a team-high seven assists, and three steals in 29 minutes off the bench tonight. Cunningham tallied 10 points and four rebounds in 24 minutes. He scored in double figures for the third time in his 12th game for the Nets. This was also Cunningham’s first start for the Brooklyn Nets.

For the Raptors, three of its five starters scored in double digits: Jonas Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan, and Kyle Lowry. Valanciunas had a team-high 26 points and 14 rebounds; DeRozan tallied 15 points and seven rebounds, and; Lowry recorded 11 points and 11 assists. From the Raptors second-unit, VanVleet had 15 points, four assists, and two steals; Miles contributed 12 points and three rebounds, and; Delon Wright chipped in 10 points, three rebounds, and four assists.

Next up for the Toronto Raptors, as they try to hold onto the No. 1 seed position in the Eastern Conference, are the No. 3 seed Indiana Pacers on Thursday, March 15, 2018, at Indiana.

Meanwhile, the Brooklyn Nets have another date with the Philadelphia 76ers in Philadelphia on Friday, March 16, 2018.

Nets D’Angelo Russell leads all scorers with 26 points, but couldn’t pull his team anywhere near a W against Philadelphia

Sunday night was a sad day for Brooklyn Nets fans at the Barclays Center. The Nets were up against the Philadelphia 76ers and it was a far cry from when the Nets defeated the Sixers 116-108 on January 31, 2018. Fast forward six weeks and one can see that this Philadelphia 76ers team is clearly on a mission, and the Brooklyn Nets were just collateral damage as they fell to the Sixers 120-97.

Currently, Philadelphia is in the sixth seed in the NBA Eastern Conference and it could move up, as positions three through eight are so close in the standings that positioning could change on any given day. Barring injury, the way the 76ers played on Sunday, it could move up a notch or two. Who would have thought at the beginning of this season, that the Philadelphia 76ers would be 1.5 games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers. I am concerned that the Cavaliers may not rep the Eastern Conference this season, but that’s a story for another day. Clearly, this Philly team bought into the philosophy of trusting the process. And, with 8 of the 11 Philadelphia 76ers team members scoring in double digits against the Nets, this team is making a statement. On Sunday, the 76ers said, “we belong in the conversation of top NBA teams.”

So, considering that the Nets beat the 76ers just six weeks ago and on Sunday, even though the Nets are healthy, they received a shellacking; are the Sixers really just that good?

“Yeah, they’re a great team,” Nets point guard D’Angelo Russell stated. “They’ve got a lot of great players over there. They’re well-coached, but I feel like we could have given ourselves a better chance by being better prepared coming into the game from the players’ perspective, the players’ standpoint, so we’ve just got to lock in as a group and do that for these last few games.”

“I mean they came out, just from the jump, ready to play,” Russell continued. “You’ve got to give them credit. We didn’t (come out and play). For 48 minutes they just kept making that happen, being aggressive. Aggressive won.”

Joel Embiid, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric, who were among the starting five, were the top three leading scorers for Philadelphia. Embiid scored 21 points, eight rebounds, and three assists; Covington had 19 points, five rebounds, and four assists; while Saric tallied 18 points, six rebounds, and three assists. JJ Redick and Ben Simmons also started and contributed in their own way; Redick added 12 points and Simmons chipped in 11 points, six rebounds, and six assists.

It should be noted that three of the 76ers’ bench players scored in double-digits. Marco Belinelli totaled 13 points, Ersan Ilyasova put up 11 points and grabbed 13 rebounds; while T.J. McConnell chipped in 10 points, four rebounds, six assists, and four steals.

On the other hand, comparatively speaking, other than D’Angelo Russell, the Nets played like they were captured by witchcraft or something similar. Russell led all scorers with 26 points, six assists, and three rebounds. Spencer Dinwiddie, a winner of the NBA All-Star Taco Bell Challenge, scored 13 points, six assists, and three rebounds. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert did not start on Sunday, and as part of the Nets second unit, Hollis-Jefferson scored 12 points and six rebounds, while LeVert tallied 10 points and five assists.

Anyone can have a so-so day and not perform as expected, and this night was Joe Harris’ turn. The Nets’ sharp-three-point shooter only finished with five points on 1-for-5 shooting.

Although the Brooklyn Nets started off slowly, by the end of the first half, the Nets were only down by 10 points (70-60). So, how did the Nets fall into this position?

“We’ve just got to stop people,” Dinwiddie responded. “And some of that was them (Sixers) hitting tough shots, so you have to give them credit on some of them. But we also had mental errors where we gave up 10, 12 points in the game. Can’t do that, obviously changes the whole flow of the game. Just a completely different psychology to the game.”

Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson echoed his players.

“They dominated us in every fashion,” Atkinson said responding to a reporter’s question. “I don’t think there is an aspect of the game tonight where they didn’t dominate and I just have to give them a lot of credit. I thought they were the more aggressive team. They really, really got after us defensively and then offensively, we couldn’t stop them, obviously. So, these are the tough ones for a coach because you’re trying to get something positive out of it and for some reason, and that’s on me, we didn’t have it tonight. We just didn’t have it and I think they dominated us at every position. At the coach position also. I just think it was a great job by the Sixers. They played a great game.”

“At the coach position also.” I am not surprised that Atkinson admitted that 76ers dominated the Nets’ coaching staff as well because sometimes Atkinson is just too forthcoming. However, during his pregame press conference, Atkinson alluded to trouble ahead when he said that this Philadelphia team is a different team from the team the Nets played in January.

AUDIO: Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson’s Philadelphia 76ers’ pregame press conference

Comparatively speaking, Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown, during his pregame press conference was by no means “smash mouth” in his expectations for his team’s outcome. Nevertheless, Brown clearly was expecting his team to get a “W”.

VIDEO: Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown gives media insight into his decision-making prior to facing off with the Brooklyn Nets

Postgame, Brown gave his assessment of the Sixers performance against the Nets.

“We came out at halftime at the start of the third period and were just sort of trading baskets,” Brown stated. “We tried to call timeout and regroup our guys. This team (Brooklyn) is a very dangerous team and I thought we responded. I thought from that point on we played defense to hold that team to 37 second-half point, 14 in the fourth period. Brooklyn is hard to guard, they are really hard to guard. I think that’s what excites me the most was our second half defense.”

“We’re just trying to improve on the things that will matter if we’re fortunate enough to play in the postseason,” Brown continued. “Turnovers are always on our mind. We played with the fourth fastest pace. We have a young rookie point guard.”

Perhaps because the Philadelphia 76ers are bigger and more talented than the Brooklyn Nets, they were destined to beat the Nets on Sunday. However, I contend that if your mind is focused on your strengths and positive outcomes, you just might win or, if not, the blow may be a little softer.

Comment below and let me know your thoughts.

TIP INS:

Next up for the Brooklyn Nets (21-46) are the Toronto Raptors (49-17) on Tuesday, March 13, 2018, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Yeah, I know, it’s probably going to be brutal.

For Philadelphia, check out the 76ers (36-29) as they battle it out with the Indiana Pacers (39-28).

Allen Crabbe led Nets’ scorers with 24 points; Nets defense broke down in the fourth quarter

The Nets had a 79-73 lead heading into the final period. Brooklyn also led 95-93 after Allen Crabbe's 3-pointer with 4:09 remaining in the fourth quarter, but the Nets could not hold on, missing eight shots in the last four minutes. The Nets got within two points with 1:04 to go after Spencer Dinwiddie hit a pair of free throws, but Indiana answered with five straight points, with 26 seconds left. And, at the end of the night, the Nets were on the losing end for the seventh straight game with a final score, 108-103 and a 19-40 win-loss record on the season.

So, what happened down the stretch?

“I think we got the shots we wanted and we missed some,” Crabbe explained to reporters following the loss. “For the most part, we had some costly turnovers too, I mean even me. We were down five so that kind of contributed to us not executing at the end there, coming up with another loss and it’s frustrating. It sucks that we keep putting ourselves in winning situations and we keep coming up short. Like I said, we were definitely looking forward to getting this big win going into the All-Star break. Now, we got like a week before our next game so hopefully, this break gives us some time to really get our minds right and attack this second half of the season.”

For the second consecutive game, Brooklyn Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson blames the team’s lack of, or, stunted defensive capabilities as a major contributing factor for the loss against Indiana.

“We couldn’t stop them,” Atkinson stated. “Defense again I think was our Achilles heel. Thirty-five points is just too many. I just felt like they got too many easy baskets, too many easy looks. There were too many breakdowns. Until we fix up our defense it’s going to be tough to get a W. That’s the way it is. We’re going to look at it, we’re going to look at our coverages; we’re going to look at who’s in the game. That’s disappointing to give up that many points in the fourth quarter.”

Allen Crabbe led Nets players who scored in double-digits, with a team-high 24 points (9-of-16 FG, 5-of-11 3FG) and with a career-high-tying eight rebounds. DeMarre Carroll recorded 21 points (6-of-13 FG, 5-of-8 3FG, 4-of-6 FT), 10 rebounds and four assists in 35 minutes tonight. This is Carroll’s seventh game of 20-plus points this season; it matches his single-season career high seven 20-plus point games in the 2014-15 Season with Atlanta. And, there is still time left in this season for Carroll to break his record. D’Angelo Russell posted 18 points and a game-high nine assists in 29 minutes off the bench. Nets rookie Jarrett Allen totaled 10 points and six rebounds in 20 minutes in his ninth career start. Allen has scored in double figures in 10 of his last 12 games.

Although Spencer Dinwiddie did not score in double digits, he tallied seven points, six rebounds, five assists, two steals and one block in 33 minutes.

Indiana is the second team this week where all five starters scored in double digits against the Nets. For the Pacers, Victor Oladipo led all scorers with 25 points. Corey Joseph scored 15 points and 11 rebounds; former Nets’ player Bojan Bogdanovic put up 14 points and five rebounds; Thaddeus Young, another former Nets’ player, tallied 13 points and seven rebounds; Al Jefferson came off the bench to score 13 points; and starter Myles Turner posted 11 points and 14 rebounds.

This was the last game for both teams before the NBA All-Star break. Nets point guard Dinwiddie will represent the Nets in the 2018 Taco Bell Skills Challenge at NBA All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles this Saturday, February 17, at Staples Center at 8 p.m. ET. The event will be televised nationally on TNT.

After the break, the Pacers will meet up with Atlanta on February 23rd, while the Nets will play the Charlotte Hornets in Charlotte on Thursday, February 22nd at 7:00 p.m. EST.

Allen Crabbe finds his rhythm, but Nets lose its third consecutive loss against the Pacers

Prior to any game in any sport, there’s no way to know the outcome. So, you look at the recent history of the teams or athletes about to square off. The Indiana Pacers came into Brooklyn just finishing up a six-game homestand 4-2. Meanwhile, the Nets were coming off a loss to the Toronto Raptors two days prior and finished its last six games (3-3), with only one win at home. So the stats were on the side of the Pacers, and unfortunately for Nets’ fans, tonight’s outcome wasn’t a good one, they fell to the Pacers 109-97. And, it gets uglier, the Nets are now 11-18 for the season and 5-8 at the Barclays Center, while the Pacers improved to 17-13 overall and are 7-7 on the road with the win.

Brooklyn ended the first quarter with the slimmest of leads, one point, at 29-28. By the end of the first half, Indiana was up by 11 points, at 59-48. Suffice it to say the Nets struggled during the second-half allowing the Pacers to pull ahead and stay ahead.

Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson knows that there is something brewing with his team as evidenced by recent games.

“I just felt like the whole game – well, really the past two games – whatever the ‘it’ is in terms of energy and physicality, it hasn’t been there,” Atkinson told the media in his postgame presser. “Then tonight was another case. I thought they (Indiana) were the more physical team, the more energetic team, credit to them. I thought they took us out of our stuff, pressured us, ran us off our cuts, bumped us off screens, so really heck of a game by the Pacers.”

This eerie common thread breaking through with the Nets over the last few games does appear to be keeping Atkinson up at nights.

“On both sides of the ball, not the requisite sharpness, energy,” Atkinson added. “Somehow in these next two days, we have to find a way to get that back. It is a little disappointing because our guys are high-level competitors and we are just not getting over the hump. Like I said, that ‘it’ – whatever that ‘it’ is – we are missing that physicality, that energy. We got to find it and we have to help them get it back.”

So given the lack of energy on the part of Nets players, why didn’t Jahlil Okafor, a new acquisition from the Philadelphia 76ers, get any action against the Pacers? In Okafor’s first appearance for the Nets, which was a loss to the Raptors, Okafor went 5-of-11 from the field for 10 points.

“I talked to Jahlil,” Atkinson responded. “I had a great conversation with him. I think the plan going forward is a couple things. We need to help him get in better condition that is first off. We need to integrate him more into the system. I think it is going to take some time. I’m not going to give you a date, but it is a strategic plan, just like we have done with all our guys, integrating guys into the team. It is going to take some time.”

Philadelphia dealt Nik Stauskas with Okafor. Atkinson did take a chance on Stauskas tonight, perhaps, because Stauskas scored a team-best 22 points in his debut, making five 3-pointers against the Raptors. However, tonight he was 0-5 on field goals and 0-2 from behind the arc in 15 minutes of play.

Allen Crabbe, who had been struggling as of late, was out front tonight, leading Nets players with 17 points in 29 minutes. Quincy Acy, Joe Harris, and Caris LeVert each scored 14 points, and Tyler Zeller added 13 points. Spencer Dinwiddie, who had been leading the Nets in scoring in recent games, only scored five points but added nine assists with no turnovers.

Indiana shot 44.4 percent from behind the arc and defended the 3-point line holding the Nets 3-point percentage to 36.4. The Pacers also out-dueled the Nets on field goal shooting 56.6 vs. 42.0 percent.

Victor Oladipo helped to put Indiana over the line, leading all scorers with 26 points and seven rebounds. Other Indiana scoring leaders were Myles Turner with 16 points and six rebounds; Corey Joseph had 15 points and six rebounds, and Darren Collision added 14 points and seven assists.

Next up, the Pacers fly home to play the Boston Celtics tomorrow; while the Nets play the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday at home at the Barclays Center at 7:30 p.m.

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