There might be something to all this.
Sure, it’s a small sample size, but in the two games in which interim coach Tony Brown has restructured the rotation — starting Sergey Karasev and Shane Larkin — and given major minutes to a slew of young, unproven players, the Nets have toppled teams with a combined 89 victories.
On Thursday night, it was the Eastern Conference-leading Cavaliers, and Saturday night, it was a 120-110 comeback victory over the Indiana Pacers, who are desperate to stay in the playoff picture. (The Nets did the Knicks a small favor, as an Indiana victory would have eliminated the Knicks from playoff contention.)
Brook Lopez survived a cold first half and erupted for 14 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter. The Nets strung together a 12-2 run in that quarter to permanently erase a deficit they’d been nursing for the majority of the game.
“Second half, he really kind of imposed his will,” Larkin said of Lopez. “He used his size and length to shoot the hook shot over the top of them and then he did a great job when they came down to double, finding the open man. So whenever you have a big threat down low, it opens up the court for everybody.”
Sean Kilpatrick scored four points in the game-turning run and Donald Sloan rebounded Lavoy Allen’s missed layup and sank a jumper with 6:19 left to give the Nets a 101-100 lead.
Bojan Bogdanovic’s three- pointer put them ahead again a little less than a minute later, and Lopez’s hook shot was good for a 106-102 lead. Another Lopez hook with 1:42 left put the Nets up 113-110. After Monta Ellis missed an open three-pointer from the corner that would have tied it, Bogdanovic hit a three-pointer to open a six-point lead.
“Our defense wasn’t really there, and that changed in the fourth quarter,” Lopez said. “We just stuck with it. Our offense would have been nothing if we didn’t get those stops down the stretch.”
Said Brown: “We were doing things a little harder, a little bit more aggressive, and we contested some shots that normally we gave up in the first half.”
Paul George led the Pacers (38-34) with 27 points. Bogdanovic scored 18 and went 4-for-7 from beyond the arc. The Karasev-Larkin backcourt was responsible for 23 of the Nets’ 60 first-half points and did everything it could to keep up with the Pacers early on.
Indiana shot 58.5 percent in the first half and stomped over whatever negligible defense the Nets (21-51) put up. The Pacers were 7-for-10 from outside the arc before the break and led by 14 four minutes into the second quarter before the Nets drew to within 66-60 at the break.
That was close enough for Lopez, who has scored at least 22 points in the last three games.
“Shots were just falling,” he said. “That didn’t happen for the first three quarters and I just tried to stay aggressive and make plays elsewhere. The guys showed a lot of confidence in me. They kept coming to me.”
It may be late, and the games may be all but meaningless, but it certainly seems as if the Nets have found their stroke, too.