WASHINGTON — The Nets moved to 3-1 in their seven-game stretch against teams with sub-. 500 records with their win over the Bulls on Friday night at Barclays Center, and Kyrie Irving’s brilliant 54-point performance was encouraging evidence of building momentum since his return from a should injury that cost him two months.
The challenge Saturday night at Capital One Arena was to keep it going in the second half of a back-to-back on the road. That’s where Irving’s focus was when asked on Friday what it feels like to have a 19-for-23 shooting night.
“It feels great,” Irving said. “When you know you have a game in 18 hours, you feel as good as you can, and you just want to carry that over into the next game and feel good about your shot. From an overall team game, they were in the right spots. I was getting to my spots and raising up and staying aggressive in transition and just doing what I do best.
“We need every game we can get right now. That’s just the task at hand. We have goals that we set for ourselves as a team, and we want to accomplish them.”
Irving got 20-point support from Spencer Dinwiddie in the win over the Bulls just one game after they combined to score 48 in a win over the Pistons. So, even though Dinwiddie is coming off the bench now that Irving has returned to the starting lineup, that pairing has shown how productive they can be when they are on the court together as well as when they replace each other.
Describing his own game, Dinwiddie said, “I saw Kyrie cooking and it inspired me. I tried to make shots. I didn’t want to let him down. Just try to get in where you fit in. That’s always my main focus whether starting or coming off the bench.”
Both players quickly turned their attention to the challenge of facing the Wizards and guard Bradley Beal, who was not named to the Eastern Conference All-Star team despite averaging 28.7 points and 6.4 assists.
“In 18 hours, we’re going to have to make a push against Brad Beal,” Irving said Friday night. “We know he should have been an All-Star and he’s [upset] and I know how he’s going to come out. It’s something we’ve got to be prepared for.”
When someone mentioned Beal’s name to Dinwiddie, he joked about several folks dealing with an All-Star snub. It was a sly reference to the fact neither he nor Irving was chosen for the team despite their gaudy stats. Dinwiddie smiled and said the “snub” he was referring to was about Irving, not himself.
“It doesn’t motivate me,” Dinwiddie said. “I didn’t expect to make it. Look, I won the Skills Challenge [at last season’s All-Star Weekend] and didn’t get invited back. What does that say? Have you ever met a winner of an award that did not get invited back? That’s crazy. Them folks don’t care about me. I’m Spencer, man.”
In truth, neither Irving nor Dinwiddie are worried about missing the All-Star Game. Both said their focus is squarely on lifting the Nets in the standings. The win over the Bulls put them back into the seventh spot a half-game ahead of the Magic, but they were nine games behind the 76ers going into Saturday night’s game in Washington.
“We’ve got a lot of ground to make up,” Dinwiddie said. “We’re trying to catch the Magic, and we’re like [nine] games behind the sixth spot. We definitely don’t want to be eighth. I don’t think anybody wants to play Giannis [Antetokounmpo and the powerful Bucks] in the first round. I definitely don’t. Don’t put me on Giannis, I can’t guard him.”