The Nets game of musical lineup chairs continued apace Monday night in San Antonio as Kyrie Irving returned to action after one game off for rest and recovery while center Jeff Green (right shoulder contusion) and forward Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (right knee soreness) both exited to tend to their injuries.
But if one player has stepped up lately to help the Nets at a time when their lineup is in a constant state of flux, it is Bruce Brown. Technically, he is a 6-4 guard, but Brown plays a game that is much bigger, especially on the defensive end. At times, he even has played as the Nets center on offense, getting involved in pick-and-roll plays that take him to the rim, and he has shown the toughness on defense to guard one through five.
Brown is averaging 7.8 points and 4.6 rebounds for the season, but he scored in double figures for four straight games prior to facing the Spurs, including a career-high 29-point outing last week against the Kings. Most impressive of all, Brown is shooting 58.0% overall and 64.9% on two-point shots, both of which are career-high numbers.
Asked to explain how well he is finishing around the rim, Brown said, "This offseason, I worked on my floaters a lot. Then, the guys on the floor make it easier for me. There’s usually wide-open layups for me. In Detroit, I couldn’t shoot any floaters, but now I can show I can do that. That’s always been the issue."
During the offseason, the Nets acquired Brown for former first-round pick Dzanan Musa and a 2021 second-round pick. He came with a reputation as a tough defender but not much of a shooter, but the Nets have given him a chance to expand his game.
Thanks to all the space the Nets’ role players get when defenses focus on stopping their three stars — Kevin Durant, Irving and James Harden — Brown has learned to take advantage of the openings to make himself available, especially for passes from Harden and Irving.
"I’m always ready for a pass," Brown said. "Last game, I kind of messed up when James tried to find me, so it was my fault. I knew he was a facilitator and Kyrie is, to, so I’m just always ready for the ball. [Harden] makes the game easier for everybody, especially for me. He finds me at spots he knows I can score the ball."
The Nets’ recent eight-game winning streak ended on Saturday with a home loss to the Mavericks, so their goal was to rebound on the two-game road trip to San Antonio and Houston before going to the All-Star break. The Nets (22-13) faced a tall order against the Spurs (17-12), considering they came in with a 17-game losing streak in San Antonio dating back to their last win there on Jan. 22, 2002.
"I never have won here in San Antonio, so if we do win tonight, it will be my first time," the three-year veteran said following shootaround Monday morning. "Definitely motivated. I want to get this win."
Although the Nets still will be short-handed overall, the return of Irving to the lineup figured to help immensely. "When you have two stars out [Irving and Durant against Dallas], everybody has to do a little more," Brown said. "But now with Kyrie back, everything goes back to normal. Everybody knows what they’re supposed to do. He just talks to everybody, he lets everybody know where they’re supposed to be and what they’re supposed to do at all times."
Notes & quotes: Steve Nash offered his support for fired Hawks coach Lloyd Pierce, who was a college teammate at Santa Clara University. "He’s a close friend of mine," Nash said. "He’s a heck of a young coach and an incredible human being. There would be a lot of organizations that will be very, very fortunate to have him. So disappointed for Lloyd, but with his talent, character and work ethic, he’s going to be fine."