DALLAS — The Nets played eight straight road games in four time zones and spent a total of 17 days on the road counting takeoff and their landing in the wee hours Saturday morning. Their record was a modest 2-6, but those two road wins matched their previous season total, and they were competitive into the fourth quarter in all but two of those games.
They were running on fumes when they blew an eight-point third-quarter lead at the end of the road Friday in Dallas. But by any definition, the Nets showed signs of progress, especially with the return of point guard Jeremy Lin for all eight games.
“I just feel like we’re playing better,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said after the Mavs loss. “Even [Friday night], last game of a tough trip, but I thought our guys came out with a lot of energy. I’m proud of what we accomplished on the road trip. I think we can use it as a building block.”
The Nets had one day to enjoy the comforts of home before facing the Knicks Sunday night at Barclays Center. But they are decidedly better on offense with Lin back in the saddle; they improved on defense after a blowout loss at Denver to open the trip, and the bench has scored at least 50 points in eight of the past nine games.
Lin said the Nets “hit a wall” from fatigue at the end of the Mavs loss, but he added, “The guys played with their heart, and I’m proud of their effort . . . I really think we have the expectation that we are going to win or that we are going to be in the game. There is no replacement for that.
“You look at some of these games like the Memphis game [a win] or the Atlanta game [a narrow loss], and you’re starting to see that whatever we are preaching is what it’s starting to look like and we are seeing tangible evidence of that. That is something we have to carry home. We don’t want to squander what we learned on the road. We have to be able to build.”
Lin played just under 27 minutes at Dallas and said his previously injured hamstring is “feeling good.” He praised the Nets’ improved offense and credited it to a mindset in which they are playing for each other.
That has been reflected by the play of the bench. Atkinson said it helps that the Nets are as healthy as they’ve been all year and that players like Quincy Acy, Sean Kilpatrick and rookie Isaiah Whitehead have grown comfortable in their roles.
Whitehead led the Nets with 24 points at Dallas and is as good an example as the Nets have that their development work is paying off. “As long as the starters get us going, on the bench we’re excited and we clap and we’re cheering,” Whitehead said. “Once we get in, our adrenaline is already pumping. We ran out of gas [Friday], but it’s the end of the trip. We’ll try to regroup, and Sunday we’ll be in front of our home crowd and try to get a win.”