After his 40-point outing against Boston on Thursday, Kyrie Irving is eighth in the NBA in scoring, averaging a career-high 27.7 points per game. Irving is also shooting at career-high rates: 51.6 percent overall and 42.0 percent from 3-point range. (In Irving, Bruce Brown, and Joe Harris, the Nets have three guards shooting 50 percent from the field). He also leads all players in individual offensive rating (121.8).
It was also Irving’s fifth 40-point game as a Net in just 47 games, tied for the third most in franchise history with Bernard King. He made 15-of-23 shots, including 5-of-8 3-pointers, and had eight assists and six rebounds. A little more than half of Irving’s 40-point total came from a trio of well-timed, personal eight-point runs, including the one that effectively closed the game out in the final minutes.
“He's just different,” said James Harden after Thursday’s game. “He's a different breed. He has that killer mentality in a sense of, no matter who we play or where we're playing, he is going to go out there and try to destroy the opponent and that's something that you'd want on your team at all times. So, obviously tonight he played great, he had 40. But he does that every single game. And sometimes he misses shots, most of the time he makes them. But that mentality is what sets him apart from a lot of guys in this league.”
Brown, who has been pretty impressive finishing at the rim himself this season, is in awe of the way the 6-2 Irving attacks the basket and completes the play in a crowd.
“I don’t know how he scores the ball in the paint like that with the bigs down there,” said Brown. “I was talking to him today about when he did the power layup with the left around (Daniel) Theis. I mean, how do you even do that? But he just scores so effortlessly. Great teammate. I’m glad to be playing him and not defending him anymore, so it’s cool.”
CIRCLING BACK TO THE PISTONS
The Nets are hosting the Pistons on Saturday night at Barclays Center, and the last turn against Detroit was a defining night in Brooklyn’s season. Head coach Steve Nash described the 122-111 loss as a “low” in the season and Kyrie Irving called the Nets “average.”
Since then, they’ve won 11 of 12 games, a run that began the following night with a bounceback on a back-to-back.
“I think it was just more awareness of what we needed to do to become who we wanted to become,” said Jeff Green. “They exposed us a lot and it opened our eyes to what we needed to accomplish on the court and what we needed to get down as a unit in order to just stop losing to the teams that we should beat. And that was a game that turned the tide for us and allowed us to get it going but tomorrow is going to be interesting. Their personnel is a little bit different. Obviously Blake (Griffin) is not there, he's here, but we owe them one. We owe them one and need to come out with the same focus we've had the last 10 plus games so it's going to be an interesting game.”
While the Nets have been putting up elite, league-leading offensive numbers since James Harden’s arrival, they’ve upped their game defensively since the last time they saw the Pistons. Over their last 12 games, the Nets have a defensive rating of 112.0, ranked 15th in the NBA during that span. After the Pistons game on Feb. 9, they were 27th in the league for the season.
“We're definitely trending in the right direction defensively,” said Nash after Thursday’s win over Boston. “We've been getting better for a while now. I think we've found a direction, found an understanding of that direction in our schemes, the layers to our schemes, different matchups, lineups, I think the players are more connected and they're taking pride in it. So we are trending in that direction, but this is something that we have to address and approach as underdogs forevermore. We have a pride in trying to prove that we can defend.”
The 6-foot-5 Harden has brought some size and physicality to the Brooklyn backcourt, and he’s leading the Nets with 8.8 rebounds per game.
“He's been very good defensively for us,” said Nash. “He has a high IQ. Obviously he played a switching defense in Houston, so it suits him that he can kind of dictate and quarterback the defense in a lot of ways, but he is very underrated on the ball. When he needs a stop, he can get a stop. He's a terrific post defender. He also is an incredible rebounder for his size, so defensively he's a plus for us, … and I think he's definitely taking pride on that end of the floor and knows he's here to try to win, and knows the defensive end is something we can't let slip, and he's definitely taken a leadership role in that.”
BROWN & BLAKE
Nets guard Bruce Brown played his first two seasons with Blake Griffin in Detroit, including Griffin’s All-NBA season in 2018-19 that led the Pistons to a playoff berth.
“A good personality, a jokester,” said Brown. “But great dude, great teammate, can score the ball with the best of them. Just a good dude to be around. I missed him, so happy to have him in (Brooklyn).”
Along with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and Kevin Durant, Griffin will be out against the Pistons on Saturday. He last played on Feb. 12, and the Nets are working him into things.
“Blake is out tomorrow, but we’re basically just kind of right now considering a ramp up plan for him,” said Nash. “He’s had kind of a longer layoff, so how can we get him up to speed and figure out when we can safely integrate into the group at full speed. In the coming days we should have more information of what that plan is, but right now, our goal is still going through the assessment stage and figuring out what direction to take.”
ABOUT THE PISTONS
The Pistons are 10-27 and in last place in the Eastern Conference. They’ve pivoted fully into their rebuilding mode, with Derrick Rose traded to the Knicks and Blake Griffin bought out before he signed with the Nets. They were two of the Pistons’ top four scorers this season. Detroit is 24th in the league in offensive rating (108.3), 27th in field goal percentage (44.2) and 23rd in 3-point percentage (35.1). The Pistons are 27th in field goal defense, with opponents shooting 47.8 percent. Jerami Grant leads the Pistons with 23.7 points per game. Former Net Wayne Ellington is shooting 42.4 percent from 3-point range and averaging 10.6 points and former Net Mason Plumlee is shooting 61.3 percent overall and averaging 10.4 points.