As the Nets look to a future that lately has been growing brighter by the game, the most intriguing question going forward is whether they ultimately will have to choose between D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie. The two point guards seemingly have taken turns alternating hot stretches with cold streaks.
But if their performance in the Nets’ comeback from a 21-point deficit Friday night in Orlando is any indication, the Nets might be best served to keep both as they prove they not only can coexist but can complement each other.
Russell had a career-high 40 points in the win over the Magic, Dinwiddie had 20 coming off his phenomenal 33-point effort two nights earlier in Houston, and they totaled 16 fourth-quarter points to close out the Magic.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson loved what he saw from the dynamic pairing. “I didn’t feel like it was ‘your turn, my turn,’ ” Atkinson said. “I felt like it was like they were just sharing. DLo would run to the corner and Spencer would bring it up. That multiple ballhandler thing that we talked about was like Utopia in that sense. They really shared the duties kind of equally. It was beautiful to watch.”
When the Nets came back to defeat the Rockets two nights earlier, Russell spent the fourth quarter and overtime watching and cheering Dinwiddie on as he scored 25 points in that span. Dinwiddie has been equally supportive on nights when Russell was the main man, and both seem sincere in their determination to make it work when they are on the floor together.
“We’ve put the time in, we’ve watched film,” Russell said. “We’re only getting smarter. We like to complement each other. I think we’re realizing we can do it together. It’s not something we plan to do by ourselves or whatever the perception is. We’re two feet in with seeing each other grow and do that.”
Dinwiddie, who is among the leading candidates for the NBA’s Sixth Man award this season, agrees that he and Russell are developing chemistry. “It’s going to continue to grow,” he said. “We started this year, and some people were very critical. But we never practiced it. So how can you be good if you never practiced it? The more we play together, the flow and the rhythm is going to get there.”
When Russell and Dinwiddie are at their best, the common analogy their teammates use to describe the effect is a two-headed snake. As Russell said, “When you think about it, you’ve got two guys who can playmake for themselves and playmake for others. When we’re in there together, that’s two guys getting downhill. We’re going to shoot if we get all the way to the lay-in or hopefully kick it out. I think it makes us that much more dangerous when we’re both attacking the whole game versus letting the game come to us.”
Joe Harris, who is even more dangerous as a perimeter shooter when Russell and Dinwiddie are driving and kicking out, said the bottom line is this: “We’re really lucky to have two players of that caliber on our team.”
LeVert coming along
Although Russell and Dinwiddie are the twin engines powering the Nets’ climb to sixth in the Eastern Conference with a 24-23 record, the driving force early in the season was Caris LeVert, who started alongside Russell and was the Nets’ go-to guy before suffering a dislocated ankle on Nov. 12. LeVert is back on the court doing individual workouts. There is no timetable for his return, but when he does come back, the Nets will have an embarrassment of riches at guard.
Asked if it will disrupt the Nets’ recent success when LeVert returns to the rotation, Atkinson dismissed the notion. “I understand what you’re saying,” he said. “I think about it all the time, but I look at it in a positive light. [Adding] Allen Crabbe’s shooting and Caris’ creativity, you’re adding excellent players to a team that’s playing well and a team that has a good spirit and good chemistry. Why can’t that make us better?”
Atkinson happy with Allen
The most underestimated piece of the Nets’ youthful core might be second-year center Jarrett Allen, who was a steal with the 22nd pick of the 2017 draft. Allen recorded his first 20-20 game with 20 points and 24 rebounds against the Rockets. He followed that with 10 rebounds and five blocks against the Magic, including several fourth-quarter defensive stops.
Atkinson was especially pleased with Allen’s play in Houston and kept him on the floor even when the Rockets went small. “In past games, we wouldn’t keep Jarrett out there when they were playing small ball, but we said the heck with it,” Atkinson said. “He’s playing so well, I don’t care if they have five guards out there. You’re going to have to guard a guard. It’s a great growth game for him.”
Magical statement game
Since their 8-18 start, the Nets have gone 16-5, and they are 12-12 on the road. In the coming week, they can improve their 12-11 home record with games against three teams with losing records: the Kings, Magic and Knicks. Beating the Magic is important because that’s one of the teams competing for an Eastern Conference playoff berth.
“I think it’s there for the taking,” Atkinson said of the opportunity to improve their playoff position. “I don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, but I think we know where we are right now. It was a big statement Friday in Orlando] to say, ‘Hey, this is a [Magic] team we’re competing with for a spot,’ and it was a big, big win for that reason.”