As Kevin Durant continued to wreck the NBA through the opening weeks, putting up 30 points on 11-of-12 shooting, and James Harden rang up his third triple-double in six games, the Brooklyn Nets made it six wins in seven games — three out of four on their road trip so far — in Wednesday’s 123-90 win in Orlando.
The Nets also got 59 bench points in the win — 21 from LaMarcus Aldridge — as Brooklyn’s second unit continues to evolve and take shape. Twelve games into the season, the Nets are seventh in both offensive rating (57.7) and effective field goal percentage (54.1) off the bench, and eighth in net rating (3.6).
DeAndre’ Bembry had 11 points and Jevon Carter scored 10 as the Nets opened up the second and fourth quarters with a group that included Aldridge, Bembry, Carter, Patty Mills, and Paul Millsap.
“I thought the pace was great,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “They played quick, they played early. Obviously they made some shots. LA made a bunch of shots again. Just shot creation due to their pace and quick decisions I thought was excellent.”
While Brooklyn’s starting unit has stabilized after some early-season tinkering — Durant, Harden, Joe Harris, Bruce Brown, and Blake Griffin have all started the last nine games together — Nash has continued to mix-and-match a bit with second unit groups and their timing. There are times that Durant and Harden have run deep into the first quarter, even playing the full 12. Sometimes a starter has been part of the group to open the second quarter.
A clear core of that second unit has emerged with the trio of Aldridge, Bembry, and Mills. All are averaging at least 17.0 minutes per game over Brooklyn’s last nine games. Aldridge and Mills are two of Brooklyn’s top five scorers for the season.
“LaMarcus came in and just has been steady for us, just doing what he has been doing all season and then you got DeAndre’ and Jevon come out and play aggressive for us tonight,” said Durant. “It could be anyone from that bench unit and glad they were able to come out there and make some shots and extend the lead for us and kind of win the game for us actually. We are going to need that going forward, need them to continue to build confidence in that group and glad we were able to finish the game off.”
“Second unit, we kind of flow a little different,” said Bembry. “We more so move off the touches, post-up LA a lot, and just more so get into the paint and make the right play. So overall, like I said, I think we're still learning. We're still not at our peak, but tonight was definitely good night for the bench.”
When Durant and Harden are both off the floor, the Nets need to look elsewhere for offense and Aldridge has delivered in scoring in double figures in six of the last seven games, including 40 points over the last two. In the 11 games he’s played, Aldridge is averaging 13.1 points while shooting 61.6 percent, eighth best in the NBA. He’s also shooting 46.2 percent from 3-point range. Against Orlando, Aldridge shot 9-of-16 overall and 3-of-5 from deep. He had eight rebounds against the Magic and is averaging 5.3 in 20.2 minutes per game.
Aldridge made a living in the mid-range before expanding his game beyond the arc a bit in his final years in San Antonio, but his shooting on long 2s this season— that area between the paint and the 3-point line — has been extraordinary. From 15-to-19 feet, Aldridge has made 20 of 24 shots, 83.3 percent. From beyond 20 feet, including both 2-pointers and 3-pointers, Aldridge has shot 11-of-21 for the season so far.
“Being able to stretch the floor like that and knock down mid-range shots and 3’s and also finish around the rim is just a plus for us,” said Durant. “We are excited he is on our team and excited that he has found his rhythm again. He looks amazing.”
Having retired after playing just five games for the Nets last season, Aldridge was one of general manager Sean Marks’ final additions to the roster in early September. His return has been a significant boost for the Nets, who are now a half-game out of first place with two games left on the road trip in New Orleans and Oklahoma City.
“True professional,” said Harden. “You need guys like that who’s been in the league for a very long time, seen it all. He retired last year and had the confidence and braveness to come back and want to be a part of this. He looks great. He’s doing it all for us on both ends of the ball. Obviously, his shot-making ability, but defensively his communication and his presence out there, you can tell the difference. We’re just happy to have him back.”