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Nets improve to 7-8 in March with 107-92 victory in Atlanta

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Atlanta Hawks Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Brooklyn’s winning ways of late have almost been… bittersweet.

Of course they feel good and the team is progressing, but at the same time you realize what this team could’ve been this season if, perhaps, Jeremy Lin wasn’t injured for most of the year.

Regardless, we aren’t complaining and it certainly bodes well heading into next season.

The Nets (16-57) improved to 7-8 in the month of March —and have won three of their last four— after a 107-92 win over the Atlanta Hawks (37-36), Sunday afternoon. It’s their second road win against an Eastern Conference team this season, as they took advantage of Atlanta’s injuries. The Hawks played without Paul Millsap, Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha.

“Our group is resilient,” Kenny Atkinson said, discussing the comeback after Friday’s 124-98 loss to Washington. “All year, after a bad loss, they’ve bounced back. I told them, we keep our habits in place and we keep doing it day after day and we’re seeing improvement.”

It started early and it happened because of the Nets bench, who outscored Atlanta’s 46-7 on the day. It was the fewest points the Nets allowed an opposing teams’ bench – dating back to January 6. And it cemented the Nets bench’s rank as the No. 1 scoring bench in the NBA. No, really.

After falling down 14-10 early, Brooklyn’s bench finished the quarter on a 22-6 run with a 32-20 lead. They stayed the course in the second quarter.

They extended it to a 33-7 run and found themselves ahead by 22 in the early stages of the second quarter. It was all behind a big boost from the bench, who finished the half with a 33-3 advantage over Atlanta’s bench.

However, the starters struggled to take care AND rebound the ball. As a result, Dwight Howard took over and nabbed a double double by half as Atlanta finished the half on a 26-12 run and pulled with seven points.

It’s good when the Nets lead at half, but in this game specifically, squandered opportunities made for an interesting second half.

The Nets and Hawks seesawed in the third and Brooklyn led by 10 entering the fourth. They really never folded, as Caris LeVert gave the Nets a jolt in the third and scored all eight of his points in the quarter. Isaiah Whitehead and K.J. McDaniels both played a huge roles in the second half, providing spectacular defensive plays and stability.

And of course, Lin (19 points and eight assists) and Lopez (23 points and seven rebounds) helped finish this one out. Lopez shut the door and put Brooklyn up by 14 with 3:20 remaining.

The dagger, though, was delivered smartly by Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (10 points and 12 rebounds) who SLAMMED the door shut with an emphatic dunk late.

The Nets won by doing what they do best: playing as a team. The defense, however, was the main feat of the night.

They held Atlanta to 34.7 percent shooting and 5-of-27 3-point shooting, while forcing 20 turnovers. The Nets didn’t shoot the three ball all too well themselves (6-of-22) but their defensive prowess made that an afterthought. They’ve held opponents to less than 100 points in four of the last six games.

BENCH: 46 points

K.J. McDaniels: 11 points and four rebounds (+21) – his fourth straight game in double figures ... and a spectacular block on Howard.

Spencer Dinwiddie: 10 points, four assists, two steals and a blocked shot (+21) ... and a remarkable four-point play.

Isaiah Whitehead: Nine points, three assists, three steals and one blocked shot (+12). His energy on both sides of the ball turned this game around. He’s looking less and less like a second-round pick.

Trevor Booker: Eight points, seven rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot (+21).

Quincy Acy: Six points, five rebounds and three steals (+16).

Archie Goodwin logged just seven minutes, but distinguished himself with a highlight-worthy 1-on-5 rebound. Andrew Nicholson and Justin Hamilton both received CD-DNP’s. Hamilton dropped 20 points in Friday’s loss to Washington.

BROOK LOPEZ SETS NETS HISTORY

With his seventh made field goal of the night, Brook Lopez passed Buck Williams for all-time field goals made in Nets history. Lopez is in his ninth season with the Nets, while Williams played eight with the New Jersey Nets in the 80’s.

Next up: Tuesday against Philadelphia.