The Nets’ Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration began with the announcement that D’Angelo Russell had been named NBA player of the week. If there were an award for team of the week, the Nets probably would have won that, too, after ticking off wins over the Celtics at home and the Rockets and Magic on the road.
Then Russell and the Nets took the Barclays Center court against a hot Kings team and proved they are no fluke. They took charge down the stretch and turned a five-point lead late in the third quarter into a 123-94 blowout victory that extended their winning streak to four games and gave them a 17-5 mark since Dec. 7.
It was the most lopsided victory of the season for the Nets (25-23) and gave them six straight wins over Western Conference teams. They outscored the Kings 68-34 in the second half and held them to nine fourth-quarter points and 16.7 percent shooting (4-for-24).
Suddenly, Russell is showing he is growing into the franchise-type player the Nets envisioned when they traded for him two years ago. He scored 31 points, shot 7-for-14 from three-point range, added eight assists and committed zero turnovers. He became the first player in Nets history to make seven threes in consecutive games, including his 40-point effort Friday in Orlando.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson compared the pull-up threes Russell has been making with regularity to the shooting of reigning NBA MVP James Harden.
“They switch and he gets in a couple moves, a couple dribbles, and punishes the switch with the pull-up three,” Atkinson said. “If he keeps making that pull-up three, it’s going to be tough [for the defender] to keep him in front. Impressive, impressive shots he hit tonight.”
Russell wasn’t the only impressive Net. They also got 19 points from Joe Harris and 16 from Rodions Kurucs and dominated the Kings 56-37 on the boards, thanks to 16 rebounds by Ed Davis and 12 by Jarrett Allen.
The Kings were led by Bogdan Bogdanovich’s 22 points. Atkinson noted that Treveon Graham held Kings leading scorer Buddy Hield to 11, about nine points below his average, including a scoreless second half.
Toward the end of the third quarter, an 11-point Nets lead shrank to five, but Russell hit a three-pointer and the Nets outscored the Kings 35-11 the rest of the way.
“We have a certain calm about us now, a certain confidence,” Atkinson said. “Even the halftime locker room was pretty much businesslike. We’ve got a confident locker room in there right now.”
No one is more confident than Russell, who recently expressed the belief that he deserves All-Star consideration and has backed it up with dramatically improved play. Asked about being recognized as player of the week in the Eastern Conference, he said: “That’s a blessing. I want to thank God for putting me in a position to do that and my teammates and the coaching staff.
“I want to keep going. It’s something you can take time and appreciate it right now as player of the week, but we’ve got bigger goals in mind as far as taking each game and making that our main priority and take advantage of it.”
Russell’s teammates recognize that the steps he has taken recently are elevating the group as a whole.
“Everything we do offensively, he is the lifeblood of us,” Harris said. “Everything flows through him. He does a really good job of dictating the pace, getting guys in rhythm and just doing a really good job on every level . . . D’Angelo is just a real cerebral player. He’s got a really good feel for the game, and he always seems to be a step ahead of everybody else.”
The steps Russell is taking just might lead to the playoffs.