The early record isn’t breathtaking, and no one quite expects the Brooklyn Nets to challenge for the Eastern Conference title any time soon. But as Kenny Atkinson’s young group got set on Monday for a challenging four-game road trip, there was a distinct sense that the past few days have provided this team with something to build on. And maybe even something to look forward to as they bounce around the country this week.
“Us going into this road trip with a win under our belt gives us, I think, a lot of momentum to build from and we’re getting guys back from injury and that’s a plus,” said D’Angelo Russell. “[We’re] just figuring as many positives we can going into the game and capitalizing on them.”
And the positives are pretty plentiful, despite that 4-6 record. Russell, after a disastrous game against the Pelicans and fourth-quarter benchings against the Pistons and Rockets, scored 21 points with six assists in a rout of the 76ers on Sunday. The Nets, who had a 17-point lead at the end of the third quarter, were able to close out the game decisively, which has been a problem all season. Add to that, DeMarre Carroll, who underwent arthroscopic surgery on his ankle less than a month ago, “went pretty hard” in practice, coach Kenny Atkinson said, and his return seems imminent.
“I’m not going to give you what [Carroll’s practice] means for the Phoenix game, but I think we’re all pretty pleased with what he did today. It was another level of ramp-up,” Atkinson said. “He’s getting close. He’s getting real close.”
The game against the Suns is on Tuesday, and it’s followed by two days in Phoenix before hitting up the Nuggets and Warriors for back-to-back games on Friday and Saturday; they conclude the trip with a game in Minnesota on Monday. That spells two very winnable games to bookend two challenging ones. All four games will serve as a gut check for Jarrett Allen, who will have to face Suns rookie DeAndre Ayton, Denver's Nikola Jokic and Minnesota's Karl-Anthony Towns.
“It’s really good just to measure up to some of the best guys in the NBA at my position,” Allen said. “Just going out there, I get to test my skill set, test my defense and see where it goes from there . . . It’s what the NBA is all about, playing against the best people day in and day out.”
Added Atkinson: “I think [Allen is] improving. I think he’s got to improve his consistency . . . I do think [Sunday] night he was assertive and aggressive Jarrett at both ends . . . I feel for him sometimes, the challenges he gets every night. It’s a heck of a task. It’s night after night. I do think he likes a challenge.”