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Nets' second unit is beginning to find its way

Nets' DeAndre' Bembry (95) drives to the basket

Nets' DeAndre' Bembry (95) drives to the basket as Chicago Bulls' Tony Bradley (13) defends during the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Nov. 8, 2021, in Chicago.  Credit: AP/Charles Rex Arbogast

NEW ORLEANS — The Nets rebounded from a fourth-quarter meltdown in Chicago with a 33-point victory Wednesday in Orlando, and the key was a season-high 59-point effort from their bench. The Nets’ supporting cast is loaded with former All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap, plus super sub Patty Mills, and lately, DeAndre’ Bembry has emerged as a solid two-way player.

Although the Nets routed the Magic, which meant more time for the role players, it was the second unit that actually created separation in the second quarter and again in a stretch that began late in the third quarter that turned the fourth quarter into garbage time.

"When we score from our second unit, it’s definitely a big add because we’re trying to find ourselves offensively," Nets coach Steve Nash said at the Friday morning shootaround before facing the Pelicans at Smoothie King Center. "We’ve been struggling a little bit. It’s not last year’s team.

"So getting good quality looks, not turning the ball over and scoring has been something that’s been a challenge for us, but the guys’ engagement and trying to play in a way and a direction that helps this group succeed is great and I think we’re getting better at it."

Aldridge was the key to the bench-scoring binge with 21 points, but Bembry had 11 points, including 3-for-3 shooting from three-point range, and Jevon Carter added another 10. Those latter two have played key roles in reserve because of their defensive ability, and Bembry is shooting 70% from three (7-for-10).

Bembry said the second unit has focused on building chemistry, playing unselfish basketball and making their mark at the defensive end. "LA and Patty already know each other very well," he said of Aldridge and Mills, who were long-time teammates in Portland and San Antonio. "I am pretty familiar with Paul Millsap because he was around my rookie season in Atlanta. We know the ins and outs of each other’s game and we build off that. Our chemistry started getting better, and it is pretty much us trying to use our strengths against our opponents."

Bembry’s recent hot shooting from three-point range actually has come as a bit of a surprise in terms of his past history. Ultimately, he knows his calling card is the defensive energy he brings to the floor.

"For sure, I hold myself accountable for that," he said. "All of us do, even Patty. He has brought that energy coming off the bench. Me and Patty talk about it all the time, coming off the bench, you need to bring some type of spark and that is what we try to do. Offensively, it might be LA shooting mid-range shots, or it might be me being aggressive offensively or Patty shooting threes. You never know. Just all of us being aggressive and paying attention to each team is playing a huge role for us."

The Nets (8-4) had their five-game winning streak snapped in Chicago, but the victory in Orlando gave them a chance to go 5-1 on their season-high, six-game road trip if they can finish with wins over the Pelicans and the Thunder in Oklahoma City. Both have losing records.

"We lost to a good Chicago team, but we have a good group that knows how to get past a loss," Bembry said. "The win against Orlando and a couple more games to end the road trip would be nice. We are in third [in the Eastern Conference] right now, and we know what we have with this team. We are very confident, and we are looking forward to ending this road trip on a high note and finishing it off right."

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