Jacque Vaughn acknowledged the obvious:
His Nets are on an accelerated timetable to understand how to play with each other because time is a luxury they do not have.
So the challenge will be balancing growing pains with a regular season that is rapidly coming to an end.
“[I’m] getting them in a position to be comfortable [playing] more minutes probably as we head to the final 19 games,” Vaughn said before the Nets’ 102-86 win over the Hornets on Sunday at Barclays Center, a game in which they led by 37 points. “[It’s] definitely something I’m cognizant of and thinking about as we try to get this group with four new guys starting to play together but also have playoff minutes in the back of my mind.”
The Nets started the quintet of Spencer Dinwiddie, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Dorian Finney-Smith and Nic Claxton for the seventh time this season. The Nets had lost six of their previous eight games with this starting unit but were coming off a 115-105 win over the Celtics in Boston on Friday night — a game in which they came back from a 28-point deficit — which Vaughn hoped was a sign that his overhauled roster is beginning to coalesce.
“I think these guys [are] getting to know each other and learn about each other,” he said. “I said to the group that easy is overrated, and it takes some time learning and growing.”
Against a Hornets squad preparing for yet another draft lottery appearance, the Nets (36-28) started looking like a team that had been together for the better part of a decade, only to revert to what they are: a group that hasn’t played even 10 games together.
The Nets won despite shooting 39.1% from the field (36-for-92) and 27.9% from three-point range (12-for-43).
Twenty-one of their 36 baskets came off assists.
“Everybody’s kind of starting to settle in,” Dinwiddie said. “Guys [are] understanding that the ball is going to swing around the horn.”
Bridges scored 33 points, reaching 30 for the fourth time in nine games since being acquired in the Feb. 9 blockbuster that sent Kevin Durant to Phoenix.
Dinwiddie finished with 24. Joe Harris had 12 off the bench and Johnson chipped in with 11.
The Nets led 36-21 after a quarter, thanks in part to Bridges’ hot start. He scored 19 points, a career high for points in any quarter in his career. His previous high was 17, which he scored in the fourth quarter of the Nets’ 116-106 win over Miami on Feb. 15.
“My teammates just kind of [kept finding] me as I was making shots,” he said. “They just kept looking for me.”
At halftime, the lead was 70-41. And it was fully deserved as the Nets set season lows for points allowed and turnovers (one) in a half.
“That kind of establishes our identity,” Dinwiddie said of the Nets’ defensive prowess.
With the outcome essentially determined, the final two quarters theoretically were devoted to the Nets gaining more familiarity with each other as well as learning how to close a game against a downed opponent.
The Nets put together a 10-0 run in the third quarter, with Claxton (eight points and 12 rebounds) beginning the stretch with a dunk and Bridges drilling a step-back three-pointer. That produced an 84-47 lead.
And here is where the Nets’ unfamiliarity with each other reared its head: In a five-minute span between the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth, Charlotte ripped off a 24-2 run to cut the Nets’ lead to 86-71.
The Nets responded with a 10-5 spurt to make it 96-76.
Kelly Oubre Jr. led Charlotte (20-46) with 17 points.