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Nets battle Cavs but fall short late in fourth, 129-123

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NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Cleveland Cavaliers David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

If we had a dime for every moral victory this season, we’d be rich men.

The Nets played another gritty game and took this one down to the wire in the second night of a back-to-back, but LeBron James and the Cavaliers were just too much late. They took down the Nets with a 129-123 victory, finishing the final 1:50 on a 14-6 run.

Again, they fought but no cigar. The Nets ended an eight-game losing streak on Monday, but couldn’t nab their second straight. They will continue this five-game road-trip in Sacramento on Thursday.

The teams exchanged leads all night. Just when Cleveland looked to be pulling away with a 98-91 lead early in the fourth. the Nets answered with a 10-1 run and regained the lead with LeBron James on the bench.

As the teams exchanged buckets in the fourth, the Nets took a 117-115 lead with two minutes remaining. D’Angelo Russell caught fire and was Brooklyn’s primary source of offense, scoring 11 of his 25 in the fourth.

It came down to the final seconds. Rodney Hood put home a difficult and-one to go up 123-121 with 40 seconds left. George Hill trapped Russell in the corner and Russell threw the ball away. LeBron James made it a two-possession game with 16.9 seconds left.

The Cavaliers eventually put the Nets out at the free throw line.

On a positive note, it was another good start for the Nets, who have made it a recurring theme over the past three games since Kenny Atkinson inserted Russell into the starting lineup. The Nets went with a different approach than usual by taking the ball hard to the rim and drawing fouls.

Ultimately, Cleveland’s 18 second-chance points did the Nets in.

The Nets attempted a season-high 24 free throws in the first half, but just six total in the second half. They didn’t rely on the three ball as much – shooting 12-of-32 from deep with 58 points inside the paint. They also shot 54 percent on the night.

Russell led the way with 25 points, six assists and five rebounds, followed by Caris LeVert (18 points), DeMarre Carroll (16 points and six rebounds) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (14 points and seven rebounds). Spencer Dinwiddie also had a solid night with 11 points and 11 assists and one turnover, increasing his lead in the assist-to-turnover ratio standings.

Overall, the Nets shot 53.7 percent, as well as 37.5 percent from three and 76.7 percent from the stripe and turned the ball over only 12 times, four by the starters.

One big negative, Allen Crabbe missed all six of his 3-pointers after shooting 43 percent from deep in the past six games.

Unfortunately, there is never a real answer for LeBron James, who finished with 31 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. But then, who does.

We never found a solution to stop them,” Atkinson said. “It’s tough. George Hill and LeBron obviously had great games. But I think we’re happy with the way we competed. We got a win [Monday] night. Tonight, we had an opportunity to win and couldn’t close the deal.”

HISTORY WITH LEBRON

Lebron finished the game with a triple double and among the piled up stats was his 8,000th assist, which makes him the first player in NBA history with 30,000 points, 8,000 rebounds and 8,000 assists.

His reaction: “It’s pretty cool.”

”With the long list of so many great players that have come through this league, in the history of this league, for me to be the only (person) in a category, I think it’s pretty cool,” James said post-game.

Pretty cool indeed.

SUP WITH JAH?

Jahlil Okafor sat out for the fourth consecutive game – dating back to pre-All-Star break on February 14 when he was a DNP-CD. The next game he was a late scratch due to left calf tightness. And then last night and tonight, he was out with flu-like symptoms and the flu.

It’s hard to get a full touch on what’s going on with Jahlil and the Nets. Kenny Atkinson said there are some areas he would like to see him improve in, specifically defense and rebounding. In the six games he’s played this month, he’s averaging seven points in 13 minutes per game.

***

It won’t show up in the standings, nor does anybody care about these moral victories. That said, the Nets continue to compete with teams like the Cleveland Cavaliers. That in itself is a step in the right direction.

TEACHING MOMENT

After Jarrett Allen, star of Monday’s win, completed a late foul on Rodney Hood, Kenny Atkinson took if as a teaching moment, not a disappointment. “That’s what we’re here for. We’re learning, I’m learning, Jarrett’s learning.”

Before the game, Atkinson talked about the 19-year-old’s progress.

PICK MOVES UP

The Cavs helped themselves two ways, winning moves them into a better playoff position and beating the Nets gives them a better draft pick. The pick, originally part of the Boston trade of 2013, is owned by the Cavaliers, part of the price for Kyrie Irving.

It is currently the sixth pick entering the lottery.

For a different perspective, head on over to Fear the Sword.