The Nets have lost a season-high four straight games, including a historically inept shooting performance against the Knicks to begin the streak and what coach Kenny Atkinson described as an “unacceptable” performance in an overtime loss at Minnesota. But even though the Nets were blown out in the fourth quarter Thursday in Dallas when they were down to 11 healthy players, there was a ray of hope for a turnaround.
A bench unit that has struggled to produce offensively when the Nets are battling so many injuries delivered a 52-point effort that kept the score tied going to the fourth quarter when MVP candidate Luka Doncic took over to score 15 points in the final period of the Mavericks’ 123-111 win.
The Nets finished with seven players in double figures, including three from the second unit — Dzanen Musa (14 points, 6-for-7 shooting), Wilson Chandler (11 points, 4-for-4 shooting) and Theo Pinson (11 points, including nine in the third quarter when Spencer Dinwiddie sat with foul trouble). DeAndre Jordan, who normally comes off the bench, started and had 10 points and 10 rebounds. Rodions Kurucs, also pressed into a starting role, had eight points and several hustle plays. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot had seven points, four rebounds and four assists and played physical defense.
“I’m going to take the positive,” Atkinson said. “I thought a lot of our bench — Musa and Theo had some really good moments, Rodi was really good. It was good to see our developing guys contribute.
“We’ve asked a lot of our starters. It’s a little bit normal that they’re starting to hit the wall a little bit, but it’s forcing us to play the bench a little more. I like what I see. I thought they kept us in the game.”
Next up for the Nets (16-17) is a matchup with the defending NBA champion Raptors on Saturday night at Barclays Center, and it’s possible they will get one or two injured players back. Caris LeVert, who missed his 24th straight game Thursday since undergoing right thumb surgery, is close to a return, as is Garrett Temple (right knee contusion). When injured players return, the experience the Nets bench is getting now should pay off.
Describing the bench performance against the Mavs, Pinson cited the work the reserves have put in. “[On Wednesday at practice], pretty much our second unit — me, TLC, Musa, Rodi — we’re playing four-on-four full-court before a game that we played a lot of minutes,” Pinson said. “We knew we had to come in and play a lot, knowing [Temple] was out. It just shows the type of people we have in this locker room who are not scared of the moment.”
It’s a tall order to break a losing streak against the NBA champs, but that’s the task for the Nets.
“We’re obviously in a little bit of a rut right now,” Atkinson said. “It happens in the NBA, but I like our group in there. We’ll bounce back. Hopefully, it’s against a very good Toronto team Saturday at home. I hope the guys recover from this trip and are ready to go on Saturday.”