Kevin Durant is in rehab with an ankle injury, won’t be seen on the court for at least another two-to-three weeks. Kyrie Irving missed practice Friday and may miss Saturday’s game with “personal issues.” It’s uncertain.
Meanwhile, back in the borough, Mikal Bridges is on fire and fast becoming the face of the Brooklyn Nets franchise. Since joining the Nets, he’s averaged 25.8 points with six 30 pieces that includes a 40 piece as well in 12 games. Shooting splits: 51/49/90. He’s one of only two players to put up those numbers in their 10 first games. The other was Irving.
And he’s often taking on the opponent’s best player at the other end of court. Of course, his defense is not a surprise. He did finish second in the Defensive Player or the Year last year. And he’s never in street clothes. Friday’s game was his 377th straight since joining the NBA.
It’s the offense that’s has been the revelation, the variety of the shots, the willingness to sacrifice his body and when needed, take over. Before arriving in Brooklyn, he was having his best season and best month since becoming a pro. He was averaging 17.2 points when he left the Suns, scoring two points higher in January when with Devin Booker sidelined, he became more of a focus. But this? This is another level.
Bridges with the look of a humble hero says it’s all about winning, team ball.
“Our biggest thing is trying to win — whatever it takes,” Bridges said after scoring 34 in the Nets overtime win Friday night. “If I score five and we win, like, I’m not tripping. I just want to go out there and win and be aggressive and do whatever it takes.”
His coach and teammates are now catering to him. Jacque Vaughn has said on more than one occasion that Bridges has surprised him on offense, noting his versatility and competitiveness.
“He’s the ultimate competitor,” Vaughn said. “I love that piece about him. He plays every single night. He’s very unselfish. He gives of his time, of his knowledge in the locker room, during the games. It’s really been a joy to be around him and learn him as an individual.”
Spencer Dinwiddie, who scored 29 points himself Friday, called Bridges offense, “amazing” and yes, a surprise.
“Defensively I’d say we knew this was our identity. I don’t think anybody knew that Mikal was this amazing offensively. Just being completely real,” Spencer Dinwiddie said. “It’s our job that he can get to his spots and get his shots and continue to stack up these 30s as much as he possibly can. We’ve got to feed that, encourage that and then for me the coaches want me to just get in the paint.”
Bridges returned the favor, saying he had no problem with letting Dinwiddie run things, adding he’s “grateful” for the point guard’s work.
Yeah, Spence was going crazy and just his confidence to let him have the ball in his hands and create,” Bridges said. “He scored a couple of times OT, and then dimed us. So just let him create and he’ll figure it out. You know, we’ve just got to give him a give him a pass, give him a look. But just him being aggressive and just so damn skilled. So I’m just grateful for him.”
Word is also getting around the league.
“He’s a heck of a player,” Timberwolves head coach Chad Finch told the media Friday. “He’s really seized this opportunity. You see this in the league sometimes when guys get traded and they’re in a role with a team and that role may have a glass ceiling, but then you get a new opportunity and they get the chance to expand their game. And he’s made every moment count.
“He’s one of the players 99.99 percent of the people — if not 100 percent of people in the league — would love to have: A two-way guy, high character, he’s about the right things, he’s a winner, he’s kind of won at every level he’s ever been at.”
Indeed he has. He was national champ twice at Villanova and went to the NBA Finals two years ago. And he’s also showing some leadership. When he scored 38 vs. the Celtics in the signature game of this bizarre season, Bridges gathered his teammates around him.
“This is a family, bro,” he said arm-in-arm with Vaughn. “You know it’s more than just winning. It’s real. So together man!”
Bottom line from Brian Lewis...
Sources have said the Nets are “pleasantly surprised” with how Bridges has elevated his game. He’s also an ironman, having not missed a single game since his junior season — in high school. That, plus his infectious personality, makes him a building block. But the way he’s leveled up his offense is the most encouraging sign for what he can be for the Nets.
Now, if fans could only find a Mikal Bridges jersey. Sigh.
- Nets’ Mikal Bridges continues to exceed offensive expectations - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- What the Nets need to figure out now after trajectory-altering Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving trades - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Nets’ vision for post-Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving era finally becoming a reality - Alex Schiffer - The Athletic