The shelf life for Nets point guard Jeremy Lin has been short-lived this season. He played only 12 of their first 56 games because of two hamstring injuries, and after playing 13 games in his latest comeback, Lin suffered a right ankle sprain that knocked him out of the game in the first quarter against Dallas on Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center.
The Nets went from six points behind to 18 down after Lin left, but backup point guard Spencer Dinwiddie combined with Brook Lopez to cut a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit to a single point with 5:50 left. Unfortunately for the Nets, the best point guard at the end of the game was J.J. Barea, who came off the bench to score nine straight points to lead the Mavs to a 111-104 victory.
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Dinwiddie scored seven points and Lopez had the other six in a 13-2 run that cut the Mavs’ lead to 93-92, but Barea’s nine points pushed the Mavs’ lead back to 103-96. The Nets got within two with 1:20 to play but couldn’t gain the lead as Harrison Barnes scored on back-to-back layups to restore a 107-101 lead for Dallas.
The Nets had no detailed update on Lin’s condition, but Atkinson said, “It’s a sprain, nothing like what we saw before.” Teammate Caris LeVert saw Lin in the locker room shortly after the game ended. “He was in good spirits,” Le Vert said, “so hopefully it’s not long-term.”
Playing their third game in slightly less than four days, the Nets got off to a sluggish start, allowing the Mavericks to jump to a 15-4 lead. They were down 19-13 when Lin left with 4:36 remaining in the opening quarter, and the Mavs’ lead ballooned to 18 points shortly before the end of the first half.
“To me, the story of the game was getting down 18 in the first half,” Atkinson said. “In the second half, we brought the energy, we were competitive. We were going toward a 40-point blowout in that first half the way we came out. We dug ourselves a huge hole, and we used a lot of energy to get back in it and then couldn’t close it.”
Lopez led the Nets (13-56) with 27 points. Dinwiddie added 18 points and seven assists, and they got 11 points apiece from Randy Foye and Quincy Acy and 10 from Isaiah Whitehead.
Dallas (30-39) was topped by Dirk Nowitzki with 23 points and nine rebounds. Barea had 20 points and seven assists and Barnes scored 19 points.
Atkinson praised Dinwiddie’s progress and the chemistry he has developed with Lopez, but he admitted that the point guard got stuck on a screen and didn’t get out to defend Barea on a killer three-pointer for a 103-96 lead that Atkinson called “the nail in the coffin.”
Barea was executing out of the pick-and-roll, and Lopez said, “He was just entirely too comfortable, and that’s where I’ve got to read the situation and make a decision myself where I’ve got to step up, pressure him more and rely on my teammates for help.”
Lopez expressed pride in how the Nets fought after losing Lin and credited Dinwiddie for taking up the slack. “It’s so difficult to see ‘J-Lin’ go down,” Lopez said. “Spencer really stepped up, not just scoring but running the offense the way it needed to be run.”
After Barea’s barrage, Foye tallied five quick points to pull the Nets within 103-101 at 1:20, but Barnes shook loose for two clinching layups in the pick-and-roll.
“You can stay with your man or switch, and we ended up with Spencer on Barnes,” Atkinson said. “He’s a load for Spencer. We switched it, and they made us pay.”