1/28 Game Preview: Nets at Celtics

The Brooklyn Nets were often reminded in recent seasons about how they gave up three unprotected first-round picks, plus a 2017 first-round pick swap, to Boston as part of the 2013 trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

The Celtics turned those picks into Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and one that was used to obtain Kyrie Irving and elevate Boston into the upper echelon of the Eastern Conference.

Now the Nets are moving beyond the trade and getting into playoff contention for the first time in four seasons.

Heading into Monday's visit to Boston, the Nets are among the hottest teams in the NBA with 19 wins in their last 24 games and are within 3 1/2 games of the fifth-place Celtics in the Eastern Conference.

The Nets made the trade after finishing with 49 wins and losing in the first round of the playoffs in their first season in Brooklyn. They won 44 games and reached the second round with Garnett and Pierce, and made the postseason as a 38-win team in 2014-15 but wound up needing to rebuild the team.

Three years into the tenure of coach Kenny Atkinson and general manager Sean Marks, the rebuild appears to be going quicker than anticipated, even with injuries forcing some adjustments. After Caris LeVert injured his right foot Nov. 12 in Minnesota, the Nets lost 10 of 12, including eight straight from Nov. 21-Dec. 5.

The final game of the skid came when Brooklyn blew a 23-point lead and lost at the buzzer to Oklahoma City on a Paul George game-winner. Since then, the Nets (27-23) have matched their best 24-game stretch in franchise history.

That surge has the Nets on the verge of matching last season's total of 28 victories, and it has featured 14 wins by single digits. One of those occurred Jan. 14 in Brooklyn when D'Angelo Russell scored 18 of his 34 points in the third quarter of a 109-102 win over the Celtics.

Russell's performance helped the Nets snap a 10-game losing streak to the Celtics.

Russell is averaging 23.1 points this month but finished with 12 points in Friday's 109-99 win over the New York Knicks. The Nets used their depth since Spencer Dinwiddie did not play due to torn ligaments in his right thumb that will sideline him for three to six weeks.

Rookie Theo Pinson, who has spent most of this season playing well in the G League, scored a career-high 19 points. Shabazz Napier added 18 points while Ed Davis collected 17 points and 16 rebounds

"It's a sign of a good program -- when you can plug guys in that haven't been playing or have been in the G League and they can still produce at an NBA level," Atkinson said. "I'm not sure we've had that in the past, but I feel like right now we can plug guys in. We can go 15-deep and we trust them."

The Celtics are 5-1 since losing in Brooklyn.

Irving is averaging 31 points in his past five games. He did not play Wednesday in a 20-point win over Cleveland due to flu-like symptoms, but he returned Saturday and collected 32 points and 10 assists in a 115-111 loss to Golden State that halted Boston's 10-game home winning streak.

While Irving matched a career high with his sixth straight game of at least 25 points, he also committed three turnovers down the stretch. Al Horford also committed two giveaways down the stretch, and Marcus Smart slipped with eight seconds left when the Celtics had a chance to tie the game.

"I had a couple of turnovers there, miscommunications, things like that," Horford said.

"I have to be more solid with the ball. Against that type of team you can't make those types of mistakes or you'll pay down the other end and they did that. The way I look at it, there's a lot we can learn as a group."


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