Nets' small lineup holds off Cavaliers for back-to-back wins

Nets guard Deron Williams controls the ball against Nets guard Deron Williams controls the ball against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Barclays Center. (Jan. 4, 2014) Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

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The one place where the Nets are not going small is in expectation. With their new lineup, which is deliberately short on stature, they are hopeful that they can make something of this season. Anyway, in terms of sheer height, they insist that size doesn't matter.

It was no small matter that they held on to beat the troubled Cavaliers, 89-82, at Barclays Center Saturday night for their second consecutive victory with their new, athletic, energetic lineup. They did enough to keep their spirits up.

As Deron Williams said even before scoring 21 points: "We're still right there, you know? We're not too far from leading our division. We've got to build some momentum."

Jason Kidd, who devised the new lineup to liberate Williams, knows how much it meant for his point guard (now one of two point guards, along with Shaun Livingston) to have a second straight star-caliber game. "It's two games in a row now that he's been big for us," Kidd said of Williams, who drew raves from the crowd with a jumper off a staggering crossover dribble during his eight-point first quarter.

It also was a solid night for Paul Pierce, who had 17 points and five assists in his second game as the undersized power forward.

Yes, on the day that big man Brook Lopez had surgery on his right foot, the Nets really emphasized their small-ball approach. Kidd gave now-regular center Kevin Garnett "a rest day," meaning the team started a lineup composed of two point guards, a shooting guard, a small forward and no center.

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"The league as a whole has gone mostly small at the four," Kidd said, referring to playing Pierce at power forward.

That is only a matter of feet and inches, not heart, brains and skill. Pierce moved past Allen Iverson into 19th place on the NBA's all-time scoring list, a feat Pierce attributed to longevity, good health and unselfish teammates.

He was especially good in key stretches Saturday night, making many neat passes, including one that resulted in a second consecutive slam dunk by Livingston. Kidd said of Pierce, "He was big for us, being able to find his teammates and also being able to knock down shots."

Kidd did have a center at his disposal Saturday night, what with Andray Blatche returning after missing four games for "personal reasons." When Blatche was asked about it by reporters, he said that if he told them, it wouldn't be personal. He scored 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter as the Nets turned back a Cavaliers run that had put the home team down by three late in the third.

"He's a very tall guy who can do a lot of things with the ball," Andrei Kirilenko said of Blatche. "He's a huge presence."

But Blatche didn't start. The center position was filled by Reggie Evans, a sparsely used power forward who came through with eight points and six rebounds in the first quarter.

One of the biggest contributions came from Kirilenko, who provided stability and spark off the bench (eight points). He was calm when calm was needed most. "I've always been like that," Kirilenko said. "I guess I'm a cold-blooded Russian. There's no [other] explanation."

But there was another way to describe his effort, as Kidd did: "It's been big for us."

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