Nets vs. Hornets: Brooklyn Vaults Into First Place and Hosts Charlotte

It’s been a twisty kind of season for the Brooklyn Nets, as they’ve navigated a major trade and ensuing roster churn, plus injuries such as missing Kevin Durant for the last 19 games. But with Wednesday night’s 120-108 win over the Houston Rockets, they leaped past the Philadelphia 76ers and into first place for the first time this season, and the first time this late in any season since 2003.

Going into Thursday night’s game against Charlotte, the 33-15 Nets have now won 19 of their last 22 games.

“I think it says a lot of different things,” said Kyrie Irving. “I don’t know if I can necessarily pinpoint everything in terms of what we’ve been through but I think we’ve been able to learn throughout this process what it takes to build something special, or something different or unique and then how much, I wanna say sacrifice, it takes to show up every day, do your job at a very high level and then depend on the person next to you to do their job at a high level. And it’s not just a concept. It’s more or less about the actions that we put forth and the energy that we put forth.

“So I think we’ve been able to learn how to be flexible with one another, how to expect things from one another without expecting too much. Just holding each other accountable and when you do that with a mature group you’re able to accomplish a lot of different things, so I feel like we’ve been able to take this time to develop deeper relationships. We’re all new and this group is so new. We have big transitions in the season that we’ve had to adjust to and I think we’re doing a good job of shaking it out.”

Irving led the Nets with 31 points on 12-of-25 shooting against the Rockets, adding 12 assists — his high as a Net — for a double-double. He got the Brooklyn offense going at key points throughout the game. After the Nets fell behind 24-6 early on, Irving scored eight straight points with a pair of 3-pointers. He also launched Brooklyn’s 12-0 third-quarter run that cut a 13-point deficit to one point with six straight points. With James Harden out of the game in the fourth quarter, Irving had five assists, inlcluding the set-up to Joe Harris on the go-ahead 3-pointer.

Over his last five games, Irving is averaging 32.6 points while shooting 53.7 percent with 5.8 assists, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.8 steals per game.


The games and the impact are piling up for second-year big man Nic Claxton, who made his season debut on Feb. 23. Wednesday night’s game against Houston was his 16th of the year, one more than he played as a rookie last season.

“He's just learning the ups and downs of the game, the flows of the game, how to manage his wind, when to make an impact, how he can make and impact without having the ball, with having the ball, playing alongside other players that have different skill sets, being able to adjust, and do it on the fly; come in, play five minutes sometimes, play 20 minutes sometimes, don't play at all,” said Irving. “It's a young person's journey in this league. Not everybody gets the opportunity to be a No. 1 draft pick or top-20, or get to play 40 minutes a game on a team (that’s bad). You know not everybody gets that opportunity of those same touches, so with him here, he has a unique opportunity to learn from everybody ahead of him but want to see him excel at a level, at a championship level. We all want to see each other do well, but specifically for our young guys in the locker room, just continue to learn from us and they'll continue to grow.”

Against the Rockets, Claxton had 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting with eight rebounds.

“Nic was outstanding,” said Steve Nash. “We’ve seen that his length, athleticism, he just plays so hard. But he did make a couple really nice plays like you said. Assists, couple tough finishes around the basket, rebounds, tap-outs, deflections, things like that. Defended. Very, very impressed. We need him. He’s maybe our best defender and with that length and activity, he’s been outstanding for us.”

Claxton has been playing a bigger role as of late with Brooklyn’s closing group, this time playing the entire fourth quarter as the Nets finished off their comeback win. With Brooklyn down 101-95, Claxton rolled to the rim to finish off a feed from Irving, then followed an Irving miss with a rebound dunk. That was the start of the 22-2 run that locked up a game the Nets had trailed by 18 early.

“I think anytime especially guys coming off the bench bring a level of energy and intensity you know especially a night like tonight that's something we needed,” said Joe Harris. “We were definitely flat there in the first half and Nic provided a spark even when he came in first half, especially second half. It's one of those things where it doesn't necessarily take one person but it could be the domino to kind of start and get everybody to turn.”


Going into Wednesday’s game, the Nets had been shooting 32.6 percent from 3-point range over their previous 10 games after shooting 40.7 over the season’s first 37. They got off to a rough start against the Rockets too, making just 8-of-28 over the first three quarters.

But they made 5-of-8 in the fourth quarter, with Joe Harris and Blake Griffin knocking down two each during the decisive 22-2 run. Harris made 7-of-12 3-pointers on the night, including 3-of-4 in the fourth quarter, and finished with 28 points.

“I think we were able to get out in transition kind of get some easier looks that way and once you see one go down we kind of fed off the momentum,” said Harris. “But I think a lot of it had to do with the pace that we were playing with. We were able to get stops defensively and then get out and run in transition and we were either finishing at the rim or taking uncontested threes.”


James Harden left Wednesday’s game with 4:48 remaining in the third quarter and did not return due to right hamstring tightness.

“I think he told the trainer when he was on the sideline, and they went back to look at it, and they just decided that it wasn't worth risking it,” said Steve Nash. “And we'll just see how it feels in the morning and go from there.”

Harden has since been ruled out for Thursday night's game, as has Blake Griffin, due to injury management. Landry Shamet, who missed the last five games with a sprained ankle, and LaMarcus Aldridge, who signed with the Nets on Sunday, were both absent from the team's status report, indicating that they are available against Charlotte.


The Hornets are 24-22 and in fourth place in the Eastern Conference after winning four of their last five games, with the only loss in overtime to Phoenix. They’ve been without rookie LaMelo Ball during that stretch as he underswent surgery for a fractured wrist. Ball had been averaging 15.9 points, 6.1 assists and 5.9 rebounds per game, moving into the starting lineup midway through the season. Charlotte is fifth in the league with 14.6 fast break points per game, but that number has dropped to 10.8 per game over the last five without Ball. The Hornets are sixth in the NBA in 3-point percentage (38.4), seventh in 3-pointers made per game (14.0) and 11th in 3-pointers attempted (38.4). Terry Rozier (41.9), Gordon Hayward (41.7) and Malik Monk (41.9) are all shooting over 40 percent from 3-point range while combining to average 17.9 attempts per game. Rozier leads Charlotte with 20.7 points per game and Hayward averages 19.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.1 assists.