Brooklyn Nets, Spencer Dinwiddie Push Things Higher With Denver Win

Dinwiddie's game-winner gives Nets ninth win in last 12

Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets took things up a notch.

The 105-102 win over the Denver Nuggets — a 54-win team last year that arrived in Brooklyn with the Western Conference’s third-best record this weekend — was the ninth in 12 games for the Nets, and the highest quality win in that stretch for a team that seems to elevate its consistency and confidence with every game over the last three weeks.

“With some guys being out, beating an elite team in this league, you say, well, our schedule hasn’t been the hardest in the world, but this is a darn good team,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. “It’s rare you get too excited about a win, but this one, it gets you excited that we can compete with the best teams in the league even with a few guys out.”

“Guys in this locker room not only believe, but know that we can compete at a high level, coaching staff knows that,” said Spencer Dinwiddie. “As long as we play defense, as long as we hold people to around 100 points, we feel like we can score enough to win and that can be the hallmark of this group, defense and scrappiness.”

It was over three weeks ago that the Nets suffered the back-to-back losses of Caris LeVert and Kyrie Irving, their opening night starting backcourt, in the midst of a five-game road trip. They went into the final game of that trip with a 4-7 record, and grinded out a win in Chicago. The Nets were blitzed by Indiana in their first game back home, but responded with a four-game win streak.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the defensive side of the ball,” said Joe Harris. “Early on we weren’t as consistent on that end. The offense was pretty damn good. We were scoring at will. Getting shots. Guys were putting really good numbers, but I think at the defensive end of the ball we weren’t as consistent and we’ve gotten a lot better at that end.”

Over the last 12 games, the Nets have a defensive rating of 107.1, ranked No. 11 in the NBA. Over the first 11 games, they were 25th with a 111.0 rating.

“Sometimes you find identity by having your backs against the wall,” said Dinwiddie. “We don’t have the luxury of being able to outshoot, outscore people. We’ve got 80 percent of our salary cap, what should be probably 70 percent of our scoring out? That’s 25, 30, and 18 (points per game)? You have no other choice. What are we going to do? Think we’re gonna score 130? Everybody in the league should know that by now, we’re not gonna score 130. Not every night. We can get hot. We have great shooters, great player skill. But to think we’re gonna be the Warriors is probably not a smart move, so we’ve got to defend.”

Dinwiddie is counting Kevin Durant in those calculations, but Durant’s absence at this point was always expected. Irving and LeVert were bigger parts of the plans for this season. In that spirit though, no matter how defensively focused a team is, there’s got to be some scoring from somewhere to turn that into wins. And Dinwiddie has delivered.

The previous Sunday, Brooklyn came up short in crunchtime in a 109-106 loss to the Miami Heat. This time, they went basket-for-basket against the Nuggets, all through 10 fourth-quarter lead changes. The last two Brooklyn baskets came on Dinwiddie drives.

“They weren’t great out of timeout plays,” said Atkinson. “It was, get the ball to Spencer and get out of the way. It was really that simple.”

One the first, Dinwiddie got down the left side of the lane and reached past Denver’s Nikola Jokic to put the Nets up 101-100 with 42.3 seconds to go. After Jokic answered for the Nuggets, Dindiwiddie beat Denver’s Gary Harris of the dribble, slashing across the lane left to right for he finish and the final go-ahead basket, giving him 24 points for the game on 10-of-17 shooting, plus eight assists.

“It’s like having an elite running back if you’re an NFL coach,” said Atkinson. “You could just pitch it to him and he can go get a bucket. I think he’s really getting better at reading the game. His lobs are getting better, reading when they double-team him. He’s really taking another step as a player. But when he gets speed downhill, he’s basically unstoppable. Those were two plays where he got a head of steam and you can’t really stop him.”

Over the last 12 games, Dinwiddie has scored 20-plus points 10 times and averaged 23.8 points and 7.6 assists per game. Harris and Taurean Prince are both shooting at least 40 percent from 3-point range during that same stretch, while Jarrett Allen is averaging a double-double with 15.2 points and 12.3 rebounds per game while shooting 68.9 percent.

“Every win continues to give us more confidence,” said Garrett Temple. “We know what we have out and what they’re gonna bring when they come back. This just gives us more confidence that we have a very, very deep team. We feel with this squad that we have right now, even healthy, that we can beat anybody on the road or at home. When we get back we’re going to be that much better.”

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