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Nets amass a big lead, hold off Pelicans to avoid late collapse

Brooklyn Nets guard D'Angelo Russell puts up a

Brooklyn Nets guard D'Angelo Russell puts up a shot for a basket against the New Orleans Pelicans in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2018. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

It took some doing, but the Nets continued to erase the ghosts of past collapses as they allowed a 21-point fourth-quarter lead to shrink to five inside the final minute before holding on for a 126-121 victory over the Pelicans Wednesday night at Barclays Center.

The victory provided redemption for a last-minute collapse on Oct. 26 in New Orleans, snapped a two-game losing streak and pulled the Nets within a half game of the eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Midway through the fourth quarter, the Pelicans put together a 15-1 surge to cut the Nets’ lead to 113-106 with 5:04 left to play. No one could blame the Nets if they had visions of the 13-point lead they blew in New Orleans, including a seven-point advantage in the final two minutes.

“I don’t think anybody was thinking back directly to that game and the unfortunate ending,” Joe Harris said. “I felt more confidence that we were going to win. There wasn’t any doubt. That’s the hump we’ve overcome from that point until now. We never really wavered.”

This time, the Nets got the stops they needed and Harris caught a nifty pass from D’Angelo Russell for a layup and then scored on a putback to restore a 117-106 lead with 3:31 left for breathing room.

“Any one of us could have hit a bucket there,” said Harris, who scored six of his 21 points inside the last five minutes. “One of them was a great pass by D’Angelo. I was wide-open at the rim, but he threaded the needle, and the other one was late in the clock and you had to try and make a play.”

Still, the Nets’ lead was precarious when Anthony Davis made a layup with 55 seconds left to cut the Pelicans’ deficit to 119-114. Davis was a monster with 34 points, 26 rebounds and three blocked shots.

Once again, Harris delivered on a layup with 35.6 seconds left before Julius Randle scored for the Pelicans. Spencer Dinwiddie made a pair of foul shots for the Nets, but Randle scored again and was fouled with 14.6 seconds left. He missed the free throw, leaving the Nets with a 123-118 lead. DeMarre Carroll then made three of four foul shots to put it away.

“We still struggled a little,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “Our execution at the end was so-so. But I’m not sure two months ago that we win that game.”

Russell led the Nets (18-21) with 22 points and 13 assists, Carroll had 19, Dinwiddie scored 18, and Jarrett Allen had 10 points, 11 rebounds and blocked Davis twice. The Nets made 16 of 31 three-pointers, and their bench outscored the Pelicans (17-22), 55-5. Davis got help from Elfrid Payton with 25 points, Julius Randle had 21 and Jrue Holiday added 20.

The Nets’ win was impressive because they were without starting forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (strained right adductor). But they cleared the mental hurdles posed by their previous loss to the Pelicans and the two-game losing streak they carried were riding.

“It’s an important win, twofold, for that tough loss against this team when we had the lead and gave it away,” Atkinson said. “You know they’re coming back, and we withstood it. I was a little concerned with the two losses and us being a little short-handed. This was an important game for us.”

Jumping withing  a half game of a playoff spot just two games short of the season mid-point  is a serious milestone for a team that was 48-116 over the past two seasons. As Russell said of the significance, “Stay there. One game at a time. I mean, the standings mean a lot, but until they really mean something, I’m not really going to get too high or too low on it.”

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