CLEVELAND — The Cavaliers have a roster that includes 10 players who took part in the NBA Finals last season, which is a testament to exactly how well LeBron James must have played to take them that far. Without James, who signed with the Lakers as a free agent, the Cavs became fodder for a 102-86 Nets blowout victory Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena and dropped to 0-4 for the season.
The Nets (2-2) took charge with a 25-5 third-quarter run and hit 6 of 10 three-pointers in the period to build an 83-62 lead. Their lead reached a high of 23 points in the final quarter as they put together their finest defensive effort of the young season, holding the Cavs to 38.2 percent shooting. The Nets also cleaned up the turnover issue that had been plaguing them, committing just 14 miscues.
D’Angelo Russell topped six Nets in double figures with 18 points and added eight assists, Joe Harris scored 16, and veteran Jared Dudley had his best game as a Net with 12 points on 4-for-5 three-point shooting. He also played tough defense against Cavs star Kevin Love, who finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds but got only nine shot attempts. The Nets shot 41.2 percent from three-point range.
Coach Kenny Atkinson said rebounding and defense were the keys to the third-quarter turnaround. “We told our guys at halftime they had offensive rebounds,” he said. “We needed to cut that down to have a chance. Giving up 86 points on the road to a team with Kevin Love and Rodney Hood and a lot of explosive scorers, I think that’s a heck of a defensive effort. That’s what gives you a chance on the road.”
The Nets’ defense also benefited from the return of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Shabazz Napier from injuries that caused them to miss the entire preseason. “Shabazz is a guy that pressures the ball and gets after it a little bit,” Atkinson said. “He has a certain confidence about him. You feel it out there. Then Rondae, for a guy who has been out that long, was pretty darn good defensively. He made a few mistakes offensively, but he really helps our defense.”
Neither of that pair was on the floor early in the third period when the Nets used their 25-5 run to build a 72-52 lead. Dudley made three straight threes in that stretch and Russell and Harris each hit a three-pointer as well. When Hollis-Jefferson got into the game for the second time, he provided a spark with three baskets that helped the Nets push their lead to a high of 83-62 when Napier buried another three before the end of the third period.
As important as Dudley’s three-point shooting was, he took special pride in the way he defended Love, who scored one point and got no field goal attempts in the third period. “I try to front him,” Dudley said. “We know he’s their No. 1 option. I’ve been on other teams where they wouldn’t let me front, but they’re letting me front and not let him catch the ball, and that makes it easier for me . . . To keep [Love] off the free-throw line and to keep him off the glass, that was my No. 1 job tonight.”
The Nets never let their big lead slip below 16 points in the final period. “They can get hot — Kevin Love, J.R. [Smith], Kyle [Korver],” Hollis-Jefferson said. “All those guys are capable of catching fire in the blink of an eye. I’ve got to give credit to the guys for staying focused and being solid.”