At 31, nine-year NBA veteran DeMarre Carroll passes for the old man of the Nets, but during their recent struggles, no one has looked more energized. The Nets have relied on Carroll’s leadership all season, and a lineup change that allowed him to shift back to his natural small forward position the past two games has made him even more effective.
Carroll recorded his second straight double-double and team-high 12th of the season in Saturday’s 114-106 win over the Mavericks with 19 points and 12 rebounds. It was Carroll who jump-started the Nets’ comeback from a 10-point third-quarter deficit with six straight points, and his defensive work helped hold the Mavs to 17 fourth-quarter points.
“When I slide back to my normal position, I can get some more rebounds,” said Carroll, who was forced to play at power forward and guard bigger opponents when coach Kenny Atkinson went with a smaller lineup. “Overall, I’m feeling good. This is the best I’ve felt in my career. You can see it on the court, and I just feel like playing with these young guys is rejuvenating me and making me feel even younger.”
Allen Crabbe, who missed the previous two games because of illness, is expected to return to the lineup against Memphis Monday night at Barclays Center, but he likely will start in place of Joe Harris at shooting guard while Rondae Hollis-Jefferson remains at power forward. Spencer Dinwiddie, who started 55 straight games at point guard, has been the odd man out of the starting lineup, but he still is logging major minutes.
Based on the past two games, including a close loss Friday in Philadelphia, the Nets have played better with the bigger lineup and with Dinwiddie coming off the bench but playing big fourth-quarter minutes.
“It gives you some size at every position,” Carroll said. “We can’t worry about lineups. Spencer for sure can’t worry about it. He still played his normal minutes and he finished the game. An old coach always told me, ‘You can’t worry about who starts the game but who finishes the game.”
The Nets’ win over the Mavs was just their fourth in the past 23 games, but Carroll has been a huge positive force not only with his voice in the huddle but with his play. He scored in double figures in 19 of those 23 games and recorded six double-doubles in the past 15 games.
Describing Carroll’s impact, guard D’Angelo Russell said, “That leadership role, that voice, that experience, he brings a lot to the team. We appreciate it.”
Carroll previously developed a strong relationship with Kenny Atkinson when both were in Atlanta, and the coach basically encouraged him to help mentor the 21-year-old Russell, who clearly has benefited from Carroll’s support.
“We could just be a young team with no veteran guys, but we’re fortunate enough to have a guy like him that’s been through it, been around Kenny for a long time, knows what Kenny wants and kind of dumbs down the message for us when he gets the message from Kenny,” Russell said. “I think he’s very valuable.”