It seemed like a major break for the Nets when the Raptors announced starting point guard Kyle Lowry would be rested even though he dressed for their game Tuesday night at Barclays Center. But it didn’t matter.
The Raptors still had All-Star DeMar DeRozan, and Cory Joseph came off the bench to do his best Lowry impersonation. Those two guards combined to score 69 points in Toronto’s 119-109 victory. It marked the 11th straight loss and 16th in 17 games for the Nets (8-33), who reached the halfway point of the season with the worst record in the NBA.
By comparison, the Nets’ starting backcourt of former D-Leaguers Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris combined to score just five points. After the game, first-year Nets coach Kenny Atkinson was asked if he ever considered trying to play more of a slow-down game built around his best player, center Brook Lopez, and he scoffed at the notion of diverting from the long-term plan because of struggles with a young team.
“It never crossed my mind,” Atkinson said. “I like the process, I like the style we’re playing. We need to improve and get better at it. You could have a lower score and still the same point differential. We really believe in what we’re doing. I think the guys enjoy it. I like the pace we’re playing at. I think that’s the way to play, and I think our guys are going to get better at it.”
Lopez, who was rested in the previous game against Houston, returned to the lineup to score 28 points and grab eight rebounds. Rookie Caris LeVert had 14 points, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson added 14 points and eight rebounds.
The Nets improved on defense and did a good job of contesting DeRozan’s shots, but he still totaled 36 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Joseph added 33 points on 15-for-22 shooting for the Raptors (28-13), who let the Nets get within six at 99-93 in the fourth period before pulling away when DeRozan scored six of Toronto’s next eight points to push the lead to 107-94.
Although Toronto took an early 11-0 lead, a Nets defense that was missing in action after allowing 269 points in their previous two losses to the Raptors and Rockets, suddenly showed up and did a good job of contesting Toronto in the paint. Lopez had 12 points in a 21-10 Nets run that gave them a six-point lead just before DeRozan made three foul shots to cut the Nets’ halftime lead to 61-58.
DeRozan had 28 points in just three quarters on Friday in Toronto, but the Nets got physical with him, often doubling, and held him to 3-for-14 shooting in the first half.
“We threw the kitchen sink at him,” Atkinson said of the defense his team played against DeRozan. “We were back and then we got aggressive. When we got aggressive, he made the right play and they hit two or three threes. When you get aggressive and double the ball, you leave that three-point line. At the end, we switched everything and even used Brook on him. He hit a heck of a shot on Brook driving to the rim that Brook did a pretty good job on.”
Lopez said he was fine after turning an ankle in the fourth period and was able to stay in the game. Despite the frustration of 11 straight losses, he expressed hope for the future.
“We have a young group, and we’re learning a lot on the fly,” Lopez said. “You’ve just got to stay positive. We’re doing a lot well. It just has not translated to the win column. I think we’re definitely going to break through soon.”