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LaMarcus Aldridge’s hot start is setting the tone for Brooklyn’s bench

Brooklyn Nets v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets have won six of their last seven games heading into the final two games of their longest road trip of the season (six games). Although Kevin Durant has been on a tear, leading the league in points (29.5 points) and carrying the offensive load, the second unit has produced as well.

During Brooklyn’s 123-90 blowout win against Orlando Wednesday, Durant registered his sixth 30+ point game of the season, but it was the bench that sealed the team’s eighth win of the season. The bench contributed a total of 59 points, led by LaMarcus Aldridge who has been a pivotal piece in the Net’s early-season success.

“I thought the pace was great. They played quick. They played early. Obviously, they made shots. LA [Aldridge] made a bunch of shots again,” said Steve Nash on the second unit’s play in the Nets win over the Magic Wednesday night. “Just shot creation due to their pace and quick decisions, I thought they were excellent.”

Aldridge, who has been one of the most reliable players for Brooklyn thus far, finished the contest with his third 20+ point game of the young season (21 points on 9-of-16 shooting overall and 3-of-5 from deep in only 22 minutes). The veteran big has already matched the most 20-point games by a player off the bench all of last season — Landry Shamet and Caris LeVert.

“LaMarcus came in and just has been steady for us, just doing what he has been doing all season, and then you got DeAndre’[Bembry] and Jevon [Carter] come out and play aggressive for us tonight,” said Durant on the second unit’s play in the road win against the Magic. “It could be anyone from that bench unit and glad they were able to come out there and make some shots and extend the lead for us and kind of win the game for us actually. We are going to need that going forward, need them to continue to build confidence in that group and glad we were able to finish the game off.”

Indiana Pacers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Can you argue that Aldridge should you be starting at the 5 for Brooklyn, the Nets head coach said his age and the current timing of the season are the top reasons the former All-Star is coming off the bench. At the end of the day, the Nets starting lineup of James Harden, Joe Harris, Durant, Bruce Brown and Blake Griffin has begun the past ten games and has compiled a record of 8-2. With things going so well, Steve Nash doesn’t seem ready to make any change. Aldridge is providing an important scoring punch with veteran IQ with the second unit.

“Second unit, we kind of flow a little different,” said Bembry on the second unit’s play over the course of the last few games. “We more so move off the touches, post-up LA a lot, and just more so get into the paint and make the right play. So overall, like I said, I think we’re still learning. We’re still not at our peak, but tonight was definitely a good night for the bench.”

Brooklyn Nets v Orlando Magic Photo by Fernando Medina/NBAE via Getty Images

Aldridge’s early-season scoring boost, of course, is even a bigger story considering his journey over the last nine months. It comes in the wake of his abrupt retirement due to a heart condition in April of last season. The veteran big only played in five games for Brooklyn last season and after being medically cleared, he returned to the title-contending Nets to finish the “unfinished business” and ride out the remaining year(s) of his career on his own terms.

Durant, who has known Aldridge since his recruiting visit at Texas, said his former collegiate mentor has looked “amazing” through the first 11 games and is more than excited that he’s back on the 15-man roster.

“Being able to stretch the floor like that and knock down mid-range shots and 3’s and also finish around the rim is just a plus for us,” said Durant on Aldridge. “We are excited he is on our team and excited that he has found his rhythm again. He looks amazing.”

Harden, who is growing his chemistry with Aldridge in the pick-and-roll, has been a big part of the Nets veteran’s early-season success, especially his midrange dominance — an area of the floor where the six-time All-Star has made his career. He’s averaging 13.1 points on 61.6 percent shooting from the field (eighth-best across the league) and 46.2 percent from deep, has scored in double-figures in six of his last seven outings.

“True professional. You need guys like that who’s been in the league for a very long time, seen it all. He retired last year and had the confidence and braveness to come back and want to be a part of this. He looks great,” said Harden on Aldridge. “He’s doing it all for us on both ends of the ball. Obviously, his shot-making ability, but defensively his communication and his presence out there, you can tell the difference. We’re just happy to have him back.”