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Nets confidently take down Hornets, 102-86

Charlotte Hornets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

It appears the Nets have found their bridge player ... (wait for it) in Mikal Bridges.

The Brooklyn Nets took care of business against the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday, 102-86. After opening the new era of Nets basketball at 1-6 without Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, this was Brooklyn’s second-straight win—the first time Jacque Vaughn has coached two consecutive victories since the two superstars were in town. The win also gave the Nets a 2.5-game lead over the Miami Heat for the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference.

“Give our guys credit. We were locked in from the beginning. Our approach was great. Our attention to detail was great,” said Vaughn after the game. “And we definitely got rewarded for it by playing pretty well.”

Brooklyn Bridges led the show for Brooklyn once more after his tremendous performance against the Boston Celtics, dropping 33 points on another efficient shooting line, 12-of-21 from the field and 2-for-4 from three.

Spencer Dinwiddie also had a nice outing with a near triple-double showing: 24 points on 9-of-19 from the field, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists.

And Joe Harris gave the Nets a spark off the bench with 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting from deep. The 18 minutes that Harris played were the most Joe has seen since February 28 against the Chicago Bulls.

“Just a true professional, true teammate, always ready, and he’s going to give you every ounce that he has,” said Vaughn. “And so tonight, he was really making shots and played a significant role into us winning tonight.”

As a team, however, the Nets weren’t particularly efficient from behind the 3-point line again at just 27.9%. Fortunately, the Hornets couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn either, finishing the game at just 26.7% from three. In fact, neither team was proficient from the field altogether, with the Nets shooting just 39.1% on field goals and the Hornets shooting a woeful 37.5%. Brooklyn made up the difference in part by making six more free throws.

Bridges was a man on a mission to start Sunday’s contest. He finished with 19 points in the first quarter alone on a perfect 9-of-9 shooting line. Bridges was lethal from practically every spot; he nailed midrange pull-ups out of snake dribbles from the pick-and-roll. He hit a relocation three-pointer out of a pindown screen. He even finished the quarter dribbling down the left baseline into a fadeaway jump shot while falling out of bounds. Behind Mikal’s hot start, the Nets finished ahead, 36-21.

The second quarter was Joe Harris’ time to shine. Vaughn ran multiple plays to get Harris going, and Joe responded by nailing three 3-pointers, the last of which was heavily contested. Charlotte, meanwhile, couldn’t find any flow offensively, and the Nets finished the half ahead 70-41.

Things got interesting at the end of the third quarter when Terry Rozier hit three-straight threes. Charlotte went on a 24-2 run to chip Brooklyn’s 37-point advantage down to just 15, as Seth Curry hoisted up ugly shot after ugly shot and completely stalled the Nets' offense out. Fortunately, Harris quelled that run with his fourth three of the game, and though Charlotte had a couple of chances to get back into the game, Dinwiddie hit three timely layups through contact to keep Brooklyn’s head above water by about 20 points for most of the fourth quarter. In the end, Brooklyn cruised across the finish line for their second-straight victory.

Milestone watch

  • Mikal Bridges’ 19 points in the first quarter was his highest-scoring point total in a quarter in his career.
  • Bridges has dropped 30+ points in four of his nine games as a Net. This is the first time that Bridges has dropped 30+ points in consecutive games. In the last seven games, the 26-year-old is averaging 29.3 with games of 45, 38, 33 and 31.
  • The 41 points the Nets surrendered at halftime were the fewest Brooklyn has allowed in a half this season.
  • Brooklyn’s 29-point lead at halftime was its second-biggest first-half lead of the season.
  • The Nets turned over the basketball only once at halftime, the fewest turnovers Brooklyn has produced in any half this season. The Nets had only five turnovers overall, tied for their fewest in a game this season.
  • This was the third time this season that the Nets have held an opponent under 90 points. Brooklyn is 19-3 this season when holding an opponent to 105 or fewer points this season.

The Film Room

So, it’s pretty fair to say that Mikal Bridges is exceeding expectations.

The midrange leap from Mikal has been very, very real. He’s shooting 47% from the in-between as a Net, good for the 84th percentile, and he looks the part of a two-level superstar. In fact, Bridges has been so reliable from the midrange that Vaughn has catered Brooklyn’s offense toward getting him looks from this range with regularity. The Nets opened Sunday’s game with a set that involved Bridges flying off a screen from Nic Claxton at the elbow to get into a fadeaway jumper.

“I know analytics with the threes and layups, but we’re basketball players at the same time,” said Bridges. “We work on our games and sometimes you just can’t get to the rim. You just can’t. You know what I’m saying? There’s a lot of other space on the floor that you could get to. And if you work on enough and are confident enough, those can be your layups.”

What’s exciting is that he’s adding little things to his repertoire with every passing game. Below, Gordon Hayward ‘ICE’s Nic Claxton’s ball-screen by positioning his body so that Bridges is forced away from the middle of the floor toward the sideline. The Nets counter by having Claxton flip his screen 180 degrees to catch Hayward’s body, and then Bridges hits a ‘snake dribble’ to navigate toward the middle of the floor (snake dribbles are a popular counter to ICE defense). From there, Mikal elevates for a midrange jumper.

“We’ll keep looking at the percentages. What we do want him to continue to get to the rim and shoot threes for us. He has shown a knack though of getting to his spots,” said Vaughn about Bridges’ midrange shooting. “So I’m learning more about him, what shots he likes to get to. And if they’re going in, we love him.”

Shooting off the dribble from three-point land is one of Bridges’ final challenges as a scorer to elevate into true stardom, as he’s shooting just 34.2% on pull-up threes on the season. However, Bridges hit his first stepback three as a Net in the third quarter and it looked... pretty smooth! If Bridges can add this type of shot to his bag as a counter to when defenses sit on his midrange shot, well, strap in.

No word on Nerlens Noel

Adrian Wojnarowski reported on Saturday morning that the Nets had an agreement with Nerlens Noel on a 10-day contract, but nothing is official yet. It may be that the Nets are timing the official signing to get the most games out of Noel. If that’s the case, it wouldn’t be smart to sign him Monday either. Why waste one of the 10 days on a travel day? Under NBA rules, a team can sign a player to two consecutive 10-day deals.

Alex Schiffer tweeted after the game that he expects Noel to be available for Tuesday’s game vs. the Rockets in Houston.

Prodigals go up against each other

It was Kevin Durant vs. Kyrie Irving Sunday afternoon in Dallas with the Suns outlasting the Mavericks, 130-126, their first standoff in four years. KD finished with 37 for Phoenix, Kyrie 30 for Dallas. So five weeks after Irving requested a trade, how’s it going for the three teams? The Nets are 5-8 since Irving’s last game, the Mavs are 4-6 since his arrival and the Suns are 3-0 since Durant returned from injury.

In terms of individual performances, here are the high games for the players involved in the trade:

  1. Mikal Bridges - 45 points vs. the Heat
  2. Kyrie Irving - 40 points vs. the 76ers
  3. Mikal Bridges - 38 points vs. the Celtics
  4. Kevin Durant - 37 points vs. the Mavericks
  5. Kyrie Irving - 36 points vs. the Timberwolves
  6. Mikal Bridges - 33 points vs. the Hornets
  7. Cam Johnson - 33 points vs. the Knicks
  8. Mikal Bridges - 31 points vs. the Bucks
  9. Kyrie Irving - 30 points vs. the Suns
  10. Kyrie Irving - 28 points vs. the Kings

Bridges hasn’t missed a game. Irving has missed one. Durant missed five games between the trade and his first game with the Suns.

Ben Simmons now has both knee and back issues

Ben Simmons hasn’t played since the All-Star Break and judging by what Jacque Vaughn said, it may be a while. Simmons has knee and back issues.

“He ended up having an MRI and it did show some inflammation, so that’s what we’re trying to manage right now,” Vaughn said pre-game. “We’ll see what that looks like kinda day-by-day, but that’s what we’re managing along with trying to strengthen that knee.”

And nope, there are no plans to shut him down.

“When the back gets better and when the knee gets better then he’ll be with us,” Vaughn added. “We want that to happen as soon as possible, but we also want to take care of him and make sure that those two things are good. So if you want to say day by day, we can agree to day by day, but we’re going to take care of him and try to get him healthy. We want him back as soon as possible.”

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

Brooklyn heads to Houston to play against the Rockets on Tuesday. Coverage begins at 8 PM EST on the YES Network.

For a different perspective on tonight’s game, head to At The Hive, our Hornets sister site.