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Nets suffer second-straight loss at home, falling short to Nuggets, 124-118

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Denver Nuggets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Michelle Farsi/Getty Images

Depleted, they fell just short in Brooklyn.

The Nets were defeated by the Nuggets at home Wednesday night, losing 124-118. With the loss, Brooklyn ends their two-game homestand with an 0-2 record while falling one game below .500 at Barclays Center (12-13).

The depleted Nets were without their entire “Big Three” Wednesday night, but did their best to steal one at home. They hit the road for a five-game West Coast swing beginning Saturday.

“Details. Just details. I’m proud of the guy's effort, the activity, and the response 24 hours later from last night was great. But details. We talked about it last night and some of that is we have a bunch of guys playing together that haven’t played many minutes together all year, so there’s some cohesion that’s lacking,” said Steve Nash after the 124-118 loss to the Nuggets. “That’s where we got to improve, especially with guys out of the lineup is really lock in on the details. Now it’s up to us to improve on the details.”

Cam Thomas led the Nets with a team — and career-high 25 points (8-of-14 shooting from the field and 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point range) in 26 minutes off the bench. Kessler Edwards, who started for Brooklyn, tallied nine points, six rebounds, an assist and two blocks in 37 minutes of play.

“The same amount I always do,” said Thomas on sharpening his 3-point shot. “I just had a chance to shoot more today, came over a rhythm so it paid off. I work on the same stuff everyday so me going 4-of-6 is nothing new. Nothing surprising.”

Without James Harden or Kyrie Irving, Patty Mills had a heavy demand offensively. The veteran guard poured in 21 points on 6-of-12 shooting overall and 4-of-8 shooting from behind the arc in 32 minutes. LaMarcus Aldridge had a good performance with 18 points, eight rebounds, three assists and a block in 33 minutes of run, hitting 3-of-7 overall.

Jevon Carter, who hasn’t seen many minutes for Brooklyn, delivered 13 points in 21 minutes off the bench. The guard shot 4-of-7 from 3-point range and dished three assists.

“That’s what JC does. He shoots threes. He’s not getting the minutes he wants but he’s confident. We need him to come in and hit those threes for us,” said De’Andre Bembry on Carter’s performance. “That’s his game. He’s always been a good three-point shooter if you watched his game.”

Brooklyn concluded their second-straight home loss shooting 48.9 percent from the field and 41.1 percent shooting from 3-point range. Denver utilized their size advantage, winning the battle of the boards (48-38) and capitalized heavily off the Nets’ 13 turnovers (11 points). The Nuggets' largest lead was 11 points.

The “Big Three -less” Nets started Mills, Aldridge, Edwards, James Johnson and DeAndre’ Bembry. Denver quickly jumped out to a 15-4 lead, powered by a 9-0 run behind the play of Nikola Jokic. The reigning MVP picked apart Brooklyn’s defense with a series of tight passes that created looks for his teammates.

The second-unit Nets responded and showed signs of life through early offense, pushing a 20-7 run while Jokic was getting a breather on the bench. The run helped Brooklyn take a 24-22 lead with two minutes remaining in the first. After one, the Nuggets led the Nets by one point (29-28).

“We just started getting stops. The first group got stops, and got out and ran,” said Thomas on the strong end to the first quarter. “We brought the lead in, so I feel like we really got going when we got stops and got out and running for quick layups, moving the ball on offense. Really just getting a lot of easy transition buckets. That’s what really got us in rhythm early after we started slow.”

Brooklyn played with a high pace and bounced back in a big way after a sluggish 3-point shooting quarter. Through sharp, some might say sly ball movement, the Nets got a pair of big 3-pointers by Thomas and Carter to help build a 19-6 run, while converting many early offense opportunities to take a 58-52 lead with two minutes left in the half. The depleted Nets closed out their dominant second outscoring the Nuggets 37-25 in the quarter and on a 23-8 run to hit the locker room with a 65-54 advantage.

Good times for Brooklyn...

Although it was a very balanced scoring barrage by Brooklyn, Aldridge and Thomas were the only Nets in double-figures at the break. The veteran big man poured in 14 points on 5-of-10 shooting from the field in 17 minutes and the rookie guard tallied 12 points on a near-perfect 4-of-5 shooting overall in 10 minutes off the bench. Carter followed with nine points on 3-of-6 shooting from 3-point range.

Denver Nuggets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

It was a quiet first half for Jokic but he certainly woke up in the third. The Nuggets opened the frame on a 16-8 run, but the Nets weathered the early burst until a handful of sloppy turnovers twisted the game around. Denver fully capitalized with a 15-3 run spanning three minutes to grow a seven-point lead heading into the closing minutes of the period. Thomas drilled a fall back left wing three off the wrong foot to close out the quarter, but Brooklyn trailed 96-91.

Despite the Nets starting the fourth with three-straight offensive fouls, the team caught a big break with DeMarcus Cousins being ejected with 11 minutes remaining. Thomas and Austin Rivers traded threes in the opening minutes and after Rivers hit his sixth three, the deficit was five (104-99) with 9:21 left. The Nuggets carried their five-point lead into the final two minutes of play and added to their advantage in the final minutes to erase all hope of a stealing win for the Nets.

“We had great looks. We just missed some shots that we normally make,” said Thomas on the cold shooting in the closing minutes. “Patty had an open three. LaMarcus had some open shots he missed. We had good looks. We just missed them and at the end, we tried to run a jump, missed layups, layups and a lot of fouls at the end. We’ll just clean it up and keep improving.”

Jokic finished with a double-double of 26 points and 10 rebounds in 35 minutes followed by Will Barton, who tallied 21 points and 10 rebounds in 34 minutes of action for the Nuggets.

The Film Room

It would’ve been understandable had the Nets rolled over and lost handily. Disheartening? Sure. But understandable, absolutely. No James Harden, who was a game-time scratch due to rest. No Kevin Durant. No Kyrie Irving.

Instead, the Nets brought some showmanship to the Barclays Center. The ball was moving better than it had at practically any point this season. Hands were active, disrupting passing lanes and squeezing off windows at the rim. The energy was high, charisma growing with every bucket as the Nets grew an 11-point lead in the first half. To win, the Nets would need to be a summary of their parts, 10 men working together to take down a Western Conference playoff team.

So about that ball movement.

The Nets had Denver on skates with snappy passes, the ball barely touching each Nets’ hands for more than a second. Part of that was, well, the lack of shot creation and ball-handling; the ball almost had to skip around the floor to supplement for the lack of “I got this” machismo that the Nets normally work off of.

Here, Kessler Edwards sets a ball-screen for DeAndre’ Bembry (seriously, Wednesday night was so weird) before popping to three. Monte Morris runs him off the line, knowing Kess is a threat to clip threes at will, so Edwards kicks to Patty Mills. From there, Patty — one of the best extra passers on the team — hot potatoes the ball to the corner, and LaMarcus Aldridge finishes the downright balletic layup.

Plays like the one above only emboldened the Nets. Jevon Carter and DeAndre’ Bembry later connected on this fantastic outlet pass for the dunk. It was highlight-city out there!

Working in unison on offense bled into the defense, as all 5 players worked on a string. That’s the thing about doing things together; it only makes you a stronger, more congenial core. Here, Will Barton thinks that he has an uncluttered lane in transition, but DeAndre’ Bembry beats him to the punch and picks his pocket clean.

From there, he makes a gorgeous hit ahead pass to Kessler Edwards, who exhibits his growingly impressive catch-and-go game when run off the line — a skill of his that seems to improve with each and every game.

“Like I say, every guy has their own strength on this team,” said DeAndre’ Bembry. “You’re just trying to play the right basketball and I think the flow that we had tonight was the flow that we need especially when our guys come back because it’s a team sport.”

You’ve got to give it to them. On a night they were shorthanded, the Nets battled, clawed, and made Denver work for the victory. Sometimes, that’s the best you can ask for.

Milestone Watch

Cam Thomas keeps making progress. His 24 points last night weren’t just his season (and thus career) high. It was his fourth 20+ point game this season and he’s started to move up a Nets ladder... Most 20-point games for a Net prior to turning 21:

47 - Cliff T. Robinson

13 - Bernard King

12 - Brook Lopez

4 - Cam Thomas

4 - Jarrett Allen

No that’s not the late Uncle Cliffy at the top of the list. It’s Clifford Trent Robinson, who the Nets drafted in 1979. He’s the youngest player in franchise history and for his first two years in the NBA, was the league’s youngest player. Clifford Ralph Robinson, who played with the Jason Kidd era Nets, was the oldest player in franchise history.

Sign of the Times?

This showed up on the Nets YouTube page the other day ... random Netaverse highlights.

Will the Nets be isolating and distributing clips from their new technology, the product of 100 cameras stationed around Barclays Center? Look for a lot more applications of the Canon technology which the Nets trademarked last week.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

The Nets will hit the road for a five-game West Coast trip, beginning Saturday, January 29 when the team travels to Golden State to face the Warriors. The game is slated to tip at 8:30 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Wednesday night’s game, check out Denver Stiffs — our sister site covering the Nuggets.