Brooklyn Nets change direction to tip off 2018 the right way

This isn’t the first time this season the Nets have won three of four games. But it may be the most important. The bigger question is, will it be the most meaningful?

Brooklyn won three of four in the first week of the season, beating Orlando, Atlanta and Cleveland. Two such stretches crossed over in early December, with wins over Dallas, Atlanta, Oklahoma City and Washington. When the Nets beat the Wizards on December 12, they were 11-15. Then they lost seven of eight, which is where they stood a week ago after a dismal 128-113 loss in New Orleans that left them at 12-22 on the season.

But the first week of 2018 is feeling a lot different than the final week of 2017. This string of three wins in four games broke Brooklyn out of a brutal stretch.

“We just kept at it,” said coach Kenny Atkinson after Wednesday night’s 98-97 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves at Barclays Center. “Just resilient. Gritty. All those words.”

Atkinson was talking about one game, but he could have been describing the whole week. Or the season. After playing 26 games without their opening night starting backcourt, they’re 15-23 after starting 2018 with two clutch wins at Barclays Center.

“I think we’ve taken a step,” said Atkinson. “It’s going to be curious, I don’t want to get carried away here. Take a step. Can we take another step? Can we be more consistent? Can we surprise a few more teams? Really proud of how the team is progressing. Just showing a resiliency like I felt like we didn’t have last year.”

Let’s take a look at that resiliency over the last week:

December 29: Nets 111, Heat 87

Two nights after getting hammered by New Orleans, the Nets took it all out on the Heat in Miami. They were up 20 at the half and 35 after three, shooting 42 percent from 3-point range and 49 percent overall. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting in just 22:51 with eight rebounds. Joe Harris hit all four of his 3-point attempts on the way to 21 points. Caris LeVert had 12 points and 11 assists.

December 31: Celtics 108, Nets 105

Down 103-93 with under three minutes to go, the Nets made it a one-possession game in the final minutes against the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 team. Hollis-Jefferson (22 points, 12 rebounds) made a jumper followed by a three-point play to cut it to five. Quincy Acy’s 3-pointer with 18 seconds left made it 105-103. At 106-103, Spencer Dinwiddie – we’ll come back to him -- missed a 3 for a tie with 13 seconds to go. Kyrie Irving made two free throws and DeMarre Carroll laid one in at the buzzer.

January 1: Nets 98, Magic 95

A road-to-home back-to-back for Brooklyn. Happy New Year. The Nets’ first two games of 2018 would follow similar patterns that diverged a bit from the first two months of the season. Not much in the way of huge runs or decisive momentum swings. Just steady, possession-for-possession battles.

The largest margin of the fourth quarter was a pair of four-point Orlando leads. Down 93-90, the Nets got two free throws from Hollis-Jefferson and a LeVert three-point play for a 95-93 lead. The Magic tied it at 95 with 47 seconds remaining and never scored again. Free throws from Carroll and Allen Crabbe in the last 34 seconds gave Brooklyn the win.

“Everybody knows we’ve got a day off after a back-to-back, so I think we all just came with energy tonight,” said Crabbe. “We had to get this win and start the New Year off right. They beat us last game, so we came out here and just wanted to get the win.”

Rookie Jarrett Allen scored a career high 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting.

January 3: Nets 98, Timberwolves 97

Back to Spencer Dinwiddie. In this breakout season, the point guard has never been shy about taking a big shot in clutch situations. In the season’s first week, his deep 3-pointer was a dagger in the wild home win over Cleveland.

This time, after the Wolves came back from five down in the final minutes to tie the game at 94, Dinwiddie came up with two big shots on drives to the rim. The first put Brooklyn up 96-94. The second, after Minnesota had gone ahead 97-96, proved to be winner with 10 seconds remaining. Dinwiddie busted down the left side of the lane again and dropped in another floater.

“We really just kind of need to get out of these situations honestly,” said Dinwiddie. “These do-or-die situations in which either people are going to say I’m crazy or yay, I just want to win the game by 10.”

Dinwiddie matched his season high with 26 points on 9-of-14 shooting and handed out nine assists. Harris had 17 on 6-of-7 shooting with four 3-pointers and some big fourth-quarter finishes.

So, what’s next? The Nets have six more home games in January, but the conference’s top two teams, Boston and Toronto, are due next. They also have a five-game road trip late in the month that wraps up across the river against the Knicks.

“I feel like we’re going in the right direction and have to give credit to the system,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “The way our organization is developing and what’s us to grow, it’s a good feeling. I’m proud to be a part of it.”