LaMarcus Aldridge of the Nets dunks the ball during the...

LaMarcus Aldridge of the Nets dunks the ball during the first quarter against the Knicks at Barclays Center on Nov. 30, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

SAN ANTONIO – The Nets have been ranked as one of the teams NBA fans most love to hate since they acquired the Big 3 of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden. But when they face the Spurs Friday night at AT&T Center, two current Nets will be welcomed back with open arms and celebrated as a valuable part of Spurs history.

Patty Mills spent his previous 10 seasons with the Spurs before joining the Nets in free agency last summer and will be returning for the first time since his departure. LaMarcus Aldridge spent five-plus seasons with the Spurs before taking a buyout in March, 2021 and joining the Nets and he also is returning for the first time. The 33-year-old Mills was a beloved sixth man with the Spurs and helped them win the 2014 NBA title, and the 36-year-old Aldridge earned three of his seven All-Star game berths with the Spurs.

Aldridge said he’s more excited for Mills than himself. "Definitely, Patty," Aldridge said. "Championship. He was there for a long time and was a big part of that championship run, so I’m definitely excited for Patty to go back. He deserves it.

"I’m looking forward to going back. I had a great five years there. I learned a lot, I embraced the culture, it fit my personality. So I’m definitely looking forward to going back and seeing everyone and just having fun."

Of course, the experience Mills and Aldridge gained as part of the Spurs culture created by team president and coach Gregg Popovich is one reason they have fit seamlessly with the Nets under general manager Sean Marks, who previously worked for the Spurs.

Prior to the Nets’ tense 119-118 win over the Wizards Wednesday in Washington, he said he has been more focused on helping the Nets with their recent struggles but certainly would enjoy his San Antonio homecoming.

"Yeah, it’s exciting," Mills said. "There’s obviously been quite a bit going on with our inner circle here on the court and off the court, so my mind hasn’t truly been on it. But I’m sure we’ll be excited to get back there."

Mills admitted he and Aldridge hadn’t discussed their return to San Antonio because of all the Nets’ injury troubles. "But this is his first time being back, too," Mills said of Aldridge. "When we’re getting on the plane to San Antonio, I’m sure all the feelings will come flooding back."

As mature, successful veterans, Mills and Aldridge have provided a stabilizing influence for the Nets. Mills is averaging a career-high 13.4 points and shooting 42.6% from three-point range, and Aldridge is averaging 13.7 points with a career-high 59.3% effective field goal percentage.

Aldridge had maybe his most impressive game as a Net with a season-high 27 points on 11-for-15 shooting against the Wizards and scored the last six Nets points to drag them across the finish line.

"You’ve got to enjoy these nights when they come because, when you get older, they don’t come as often," Aldridge said. "So just enjoying the moment and happy my teammates had my back and were trying to find me."

Assistant fined for 'pass interference'

Nets assistant coach David Vanterpool was fined $10,000 and the Nets were penalized $25,000 by the NBA on Thursday after he interfered with play in a victory at Washington.

Vanterpool reached across the sideline and deflected a pass with 5:42 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Nets’ 119-118 victory on Wednesday. The Nets ended up coming up with the ball and were credited with a steal. Washington’s Kyle Kuzma, who was charged with a turnover on the play, was livid and critical of the officials after the game. Referee Ben Taylor said none of the officials saw the deflection on the floor.

With AP

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