After a 98-85 win over the visiting Portland Trail Blazers yesterday, the Brooklyn Nets find themselves 6-1 at the Barclays Center—their best start at home since opening the 2002-2003 season 18-1. Now the team will head into tonight's game against the Knicks riding a two-game winning streak. "It will be a great atmosphere," Deron Williams said in the locker room after his fifth double-double of the season (15 points, 12 assists) and career-high four blocks against Portland. Both teams are playing some of the strongest basketball in the league—maybe more surprisingly, on both ends of the court—and the winner will exit the building atop the Atlantic Division. "That's why it's a big game," Williams added. "Not just because it's the Knicks, it's because they have the best record in the East and they're a tough team."
Coming off a hard fought, but disappointing three-game California road trip that saw them drop two in a row to the Lakers and Warriors after a win in Sacramento, the Nets steadied the ship (or rusty turtle thingy) against the Los Angeles Clippers at home on Friday night. Avery Johnson's squad held the Pacific Division's top team to 76 points, dropping their points-against average to 92.5 on the year, good for second best in the league. That defense was once again on display Sunday afternoon, at least for one half.
With Darryl Strawberry in attendance, yesterday's game against Portland got off to a sloppy start, as the Nets got out to a 14-5 lead before ending the first quarter trailing 27-25. The malaise continued in the second quarter and if not for Joe Johnson, the Nets might have found themselves trailing at halftime by more than just four points.
Two days after making 75% of his shots against the Clippers, Johnson played one of his best games as a Brooklyn Net, hitting 52% from the field and leading all scorers with 21 points. Johnson, who's gotten off to a slow start in his first season in Brooklyn, is suddenly surging on this homestand and provided a much needed spark in the second quarter when the Nets found themselves down by as many as seven before he hit three unanswered buckets, finishing the half with 17 points on 8 of 12 shooting.
"It's always a great feeling when you get into a nice rhythm," Johnson said after the game. "And today in the first half was one of those feelings." It was Johnson's offense along with strong team rebounding that helped keep the Nets in a game where they gave up 50 points and 50% shooting from three-point range in the first half.
"I refused to go crazy and use bad language," Coach Avery Johnson admitted, referring to a defense some fans might refer to as being "shitty," or "inconsistent," or "the Barclays Brown Note." Coach Johnson continued: "I was really disappointed with our defense in the first half. But they responded…and it was fun to watch."
Indeed the Nets defense returned to the court in the second half a different team, outscoring Portland 52-35, and outrebounding them 48-34 for the game. Reggie Evans led the way with a season-high 14 boards, but was far from alone. Kris Humphries had 10 to go with 14 points for a double-double, and Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche added eight each.
Perhaps as a sign of reverence for their opponent, none of the Nets took the shit-talking bait in the locker room yesterday. "I think a lot of the fans are looking forward to this game and obviously we are too," Deron Williams said, seemingly reading off a Forest City Ratner press release. "Hopefully it's going to be a great rivalry for years to come."