ORLANDO, Fla. — When the Nets began the three-game winning streak that ended Thursday night at Amway Center, they beat the Magic last Saturday in Brooklyn thanks to a bench that outscored Orlando’s reserves, 72-16, including a decisive fourth-quarter run.
The Nets’ second unit tried to reprise their “Magic act,” with a 16-5 run that trimmed a 17-point deficit to five points with 9:37 left to play, and they got within five a second time on a Jeremy Lin jumper with 1:14 left. But the Nets couldn’t sustain that momentum to the finish in a 115-107 loss.
The game was decided in the third quarter when Jodie Meeks scored 18 of his 20 points for the Magic (28-51) including 13 straight points during a 31-8 run for a 75-58 lead. The Magic got 22 points from Elfrid Payton and 21 from Aaron Gordon.
Lin topped the Nets (19-60) with his season-high 32 points, and Caris LeVert added 20 but Brook Lopez was limited to 10 and still needs 35 to break the franchise career scoring record.
“They came out with more energy than us in the third,” Lopez said. “I was so flat-out poor tonight, it was rough. We’ve grown so much over this stretch, but we took a step back tonight.”
Strong play by the Nets’ bench has been the norm, and coach Kenny Atkinson said they provided a spark with a 39-29 bench scoring edge Thursday. Atkinson has turned a collection of former D-Leaguers, journeymen and rookies into a remarkably effective second unit by giving them important fourth-quarter minutes, as he did Thursday.
“Part of the big big-picture plan was saying, ‘We’re going to stick with these guys, we’re going to give them confidence, we’re going to put them in tough spots and not end up playing Brook and Jeremy 38 minutes, 40 minutes,’” Atkinson said.
“Sometimes, you’re risking the balance of the game, but I think as you look at how we’ve distributed our minutes, there was a definite plan in place.”
The Nets have five players who weren’t on the roster to begin this season — Quincy Acy, Spencer Dinwiddie, Archie Goodwin, K.J. McDaniels and Andrew Nicholson — and the first four are former D-Leaguers. Newcomers include rookies LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead along with Justin Hamilton, who played in Spain last season. Veterans Sean Kilpatrick and Joe Harris also were reclaimed from the D-League.
Before Thursday’s game, Atkinson identified LeVert, a starter now, and Whitehead as players who have impressed with their development and added Dinwiddie, who started at point guard during most of Lin’s 45-game injury absence. “I think it’s a testament to the coaching staff and their attitude of development, the confidence they place in guys,” Dinwiddie said of the development process. They’ve given some guys the opportunity, and they’ve shown [talent].”
Dinwiddie (11 points), Whitehead (10) and Hamilton (10) all scored in double figures for the bench against the Magic.
Goodwin, who earlier this week signed a two-year deal with the Nets, now finds he often is playing in the fourth quarter with the second unit. “If you look at Golden State and San Antonio, for the most part, their starters don’t play over 34 minutes,” Goodwin said. “That’s a big thing. When you have your starters playing 36, 37 minutes a game, that takes a toll, and it shows no trust in your bench.
“I think we do a really good job of showing a lot of trust in our bench, and it shows in our play. We come out ready to roll as soon as we come off the bench, and you don’t see that in a lot of teams.”