Mason Plumlee scores 22 as Nets beat Pelicans

Mason Plumlee reacts after dunking the ball in

Mason Plumlee reacts after dunking the ball in the first half of a game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Barclays Center on Feb. 9, 2014. (Credit: Jim McIsaac)

Unfulfilled expectations are not always so terrible. Even the Nets, who lead the league in spoiled plans this season, have room for pleasant surprises. Specifically, there is room for the likes of Mason Plumlee.

On draft night, when they were preoccupied with making a massive veteran-studded trade that would change the whole team, the Nets figured he would be a project for down the road. No one expected to see what they saw at Barclays Center Sunday night, when Plumlee had 22 points and 13 rebounds in a 93-81 win over the Pelicans.

Plumlee was especially dynamic in the first half, at the very least holding his own against fellow young big man Anthony Davis, an All-Star. He drew roars with repeated dunks, especially a one-motion, one-hander off an alley-oop pass from Jason Terry. Plumlee evoked a huge cheer with a block despite the fact that it bounced off teammate Alan Anderson. Most important, he was the biggest factor in building a 51-28 lead.

No way did anyone foresee this when Plumlee was an add-on to a roster that had Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche, then acquired Kevin Garnett.

"As a player, you always prepare to play. You have your own vision of how things are going to happen,'' Plumlee said. "I know on draft night, people saw the trade, they knew they had Dray, they had Brook. I'm just like, 'I'm going to be ready to play when they need me, try to earn some minutes and we'll go from there.' But you're right. I don't think Jason Kidd or Billy expected me to play that much. I'm just grateful they've given me the opportunity to earn their trust on the floor.''

Kidd agreed that Plumlee has won the hard-earned respect of the older guys "by his work ethic. That's it. It's simple.''

Nothing is that simple, though. Terry said it also involved "keeping his ears open and his mouth shut. And he has done that. When called upon, he has always been ready to perform. It's rough, the only rookie on a veteran team. But there are some benefits to that, also. You take care of the guys, they look after you.''

Said Plumlee: "We have guys who are willing to teach me what they already know. I'm just fortunate to be on their team.''

Circumstances have worked in Plumlee's favor. Blatche was out for a while for personal reasons, Lopez is lost for the season with a foot injury and Reggie Evans never has earned playing time from Kidd. The rookie has made the most of it through a peak-and-valley season.

On Sunday night, he got his chance when Blatche quickly picked up two fouls. He was on the floor in the second half as the Nets held off a Pelicans run.

None of the Nets' starters scored in double figures, mostly because they were allowed to take it easy. Garnett played only 13 minutes. "It's no secret that we're older, so we look at this win in a couple ways,'' Plumlee said. "We get to rest them and keep them fresh.''

His team got a kick out of seeing a 23-year-old with a fresh take on an NBA season. "He's doing everything we've asked him to do -- a lot of energy, rebounding the ball very well, setting picks,'' Terry said. "He's rolling hard to the basket, and when he catches it, he's finishing.''

Notes & quotes: Andrei Kirilenko is watching every minute he can of the Winter Olympics. "It's great. I thought the Opening Ceremony was tremendous,'' the Nets forward said. "I'm very proud to be Russian.''

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