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Nets move to 10 games over .500, beating Timberwolves 110-105

Minnesota Timberwolves v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

A win is a win is a win. Don’t bother us with the details.

“It wasn’t a masterpiece,” said Steve Nash on the win. “We struggled and they lead the league in fouls. They foul a lot. They mucked off on some of our non-shooters, junked up the game and they did a really good job of it. We struggled to get off the ball quickly, make quick decisions and that fed into their game plan.

“At the end of the day, that was a very easy game to lose for the way it was going and we found a way to win.”

The Nets defeated the Timberwolves, 110-105, Friday night at Barclays Center. With the win, Brooklyn picks up their sixth win in their last seven and their 14th in their last 16 while improving to 16-6 on the young season. More importantly, the team is now 10 games over .500 and remains on top of the Eastern Conference standings. It is the best 22-game start in franchise history, NBA or ABA.

Kevin Durant recorded his ninth 30+ point game of the season, finishing with 30 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the field but surprisingly only 0-of-1 from 3-point range. The league’s leading scorer tallied 10 rebounds and six assists as well in his 38 minutes of action. More importantly, he hit the dagger.

The Nets head coach said Durant will play Saturday night against the Bulls despite logging 38 minutes in the first game of this back-to-back.

Patty Mills delivered another thrilling sharpshooting performance of 23 points on 8-of-15 shooting overall and 4-of-9 from deep in 34 minutes. Mills is already only one 20+ point game shy of tying his single-season high total of nine 20+ point games.

“He’s been very crucial,” said Durant on Mills’ play in the absence of Joe Harris. “He’s just being aggressive, knocking down shots, and provides a lot of pace for us. Patty’s been great and we’re asking a lot from him now with guys being injured, but he’s taking on that challenge. We’re going to need a lot more from him going forward.”

James Harden had another decent all-around game of 20 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in 36 minutes of play, his play frustrated by three early fouls. James Johnson led the bench with 11 points in 25 minutes.

“We’re going to need that every time he steps on the floor,” said Harden on Johnson’s play. “He’s versatile, can finish, a very, very good play-maker, can rebound the basketball, and he brings a lot to our team. We need that consistently from him every single night.”

The Nets went with the same starting five — Harden, Mills, Durant, DeAndre’ Bembry and LaMarcus Aldridge — for the fourth straight game. It was one of the sloppiest starts of the young season with both teams combining for ten turnovers in less than four minutes of play.

In the midst of all the turnovers, Brooklyn hit seven of their first nine shots while Minnesota connected on six of their first nine and took an early 17-15 advantage with 7:10 remaining. The Timberwolves utilized their length to get deflections and turn loose balls into transition offense, which were the staples of their offense in the first frame. The Wolves forged a 12-2 run lasting nearly four minutes of play while the Nets missed six straight shots. As the first-quarter buzzer sounded, Brooklyn trailed 34-27.

The Nets bridged a combined 14-0 run starting with the final minute of the first to take a 35-34 advantage with 9:43 remaining. Following a timeout by Brooklyn, Nic Claxton checked in but quickly drew three personals as he replaced Millsap. Claxton didn’t return.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

And then Anthony Edwards — who scored zero points until the tail-end of the second — got going for Minnesota, scoring 11 points and two of which came from a thunderous transition slam erupting the Barclays Center crowd to give the Wolves a 51-45 lead with two minutes remaining in the half.

Brooklyn responded with a 14-4 run to close out the first half with a 59-55 advantage. Durant paved the way in the first half for the Nets with a quiet 13 points on 3-of-5 shooting from the field and no attempts from three-point range in 17 minutes of action. LaMarcus Aldridge got going in the second, totaling 13 points in 15 minutes, followed by Harden with nine points, but foul trouble(four fouls) kept him out for the final three minutes of the half.

As a team, the Nets shot 48.7 percent from the field and 20.0 percent from three-point range. The 11 first-half turnovers were costly, translating to 11 points for Minnesota.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

It was a disjointed third quarter. Durant started it off hot, dishing five assists in the opening four-minute stretch - a stretch that included 16 points - but the Timberwolves continued to answer, capitalizing on the Nets' reoccurring issue of not protecting the lanes.

After a back-and-forth exchange of buckets but no separation from both teams, it was a snail’s pace for the final three minutes of the third due to both teams being over the limit. Minnesota came close to grabbing what would be their only lead of the third, but Brooklyn hit the fourth with a flimsy 86-85 lead.

Brooklyn forged a 14-2 run to build a four-point lead heading into the final two minutes of play. Minnesota missed eight-straight shots and after falling in a four-point hole, Durant nailed the dagger to cement the home win.

“Defensively, we just got more physical,” said Harden on the catalyst in the fourth quarter. “We got into the bonus pretty early and that’s increases our physicality. We just continued that and rebounded the basketball and we didn’t turn the ball over in the fourth quarter. We just tried to get a good shot every time.”

That said, there were areas for the Nets to improve going forward — and they’ll get a real chance to do so the very night on Saturday against the Chicago Bulls.

“I think that that’s the elephant in the room is how we start games,” said Patty Mills about areas of improvement. “Being able to hang our hat on the defensive end, and that’s probably where we’ve taken maybe a step back — in tonight’s game, for sure. Being able to start games off well, and that leading us on the defensive end so we can flow from that.”

The Film Room

James Johnson is a fun player.

His playing time has varied this year. He saw early floor time to start the year, receiving 20 minutes in Brooklyn’s opener against the Milwaukee Bucks. After that, his playing time depreciated — from 3 minutes against Philadelphia the next game, 5 minutes against Charlotte after that, to all the way out of the rotation by the start of November.

However, with the injury to Joe Harris, Blake Griffin being removed from the rotation, and Kyrie Irving’s continued absence, the Nets have needed reinforcements. #NextManUp, as they like to say.

Johnson saw 25 minutes against the Orlando Magic on November 11 and basically hasn’t looked back. He presents a lot of intriguing things: switchability on defense, guarding 2-through-5. He’s tough as nails. On Friday, he even tapped into pressuring the offensive glass and hit 2 tip-ins against a Timberwolves team that ranks 28th in defensive rebounding. It was a different look for the Nets, who rank dead last in offensive rebounding.

But maybe the most delightful part of Johnson’s game is his ability to handle and facilitate. Having supporting pieces that can keep the offense flowing with a live-dribble is an incredible luxury; for a Nets team that’s light on creation with the disappearance of a 50/40/90 shooting 27-point scorer, that skillset goes from a luxury to a necessity.

Johnson’s effectively functioned as a ball-handler for Brooklyn’s backups. He’s pushed the pace in transition, played connector with the rock in hand during busted possessions, and he’ll even set up Brooklyn’s shooters — big or small — with snappy dribble-handoffs. One thing to note, the dude is not afraid of making significant contact with his screens!

“He’s versatile,” said James Harden after the game. “Can finish. Very, very good playmaker. Can rebound a basketball, who brings a lot to our team, and we need that consistently from him every single night.”

Though he wasn’t expected to be a significant contributor this season, Johnson has filled in admirably. Who would’ve thought the backup forward with funky dribble moves could end up being such a life-saver for the Nets this season?

Milestone Watch

With his eighth made free throw, James Harden moved past Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Dolph Schayes (6,712) into 11th place in NBA history in free throws made. Next up: Adrian Dantley (6,832).

With his first Player of the Month as a Brooklyn Net, Kevin Durant became only the 10th player in the history of the award to win the honor in both conferences. James Harden became the 9th player last season.

Durant has also scored at least 25 points in a game 585 times. He’s now passed Oscar Robertson’s tally of 584.

Thigh bruise sends Cam Thomas to the bench

The Nets kept Cam Thomas on the bench in the second half after he suffered a left thigh contusion, aka bruise. Steve Nash said he doesn’t know Thomas’ status for Saturday’s game vs. Chicago.

“I don’t know anything about tomorrow but he got a little thigh bruise,” said Nash on Thomas. “We’ll see how severe it is.”

What’s next

Chicago Bulls v New York Knicks Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Nets will host the Bulls Saturday night at Barclays Center for the second game of a back-to-back. The game is scheduled to tip at 8:00 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Friday night’s game, check out Canis Hoopus — our sister site covering the Timberwolves.