Carmelo Anthony came, saw placards of what the new arena in Brooklyn will look like, and the Nets conquered.
This was easily their most significant win of the season and how they beat Anthony and the Nuggets, 115-99 last night at the Rock, made it even more significant.
Brook Lopez, the only untouchable, had a strong game with 27 points. But it was everyone else, many of them involved or affected by the Anthony talks, that showed tremendous pride and desire and put forth some of the better efforts of the season.
It started with Devin Harris. The Nets’ captain was nearly traded to Denver twice and it definitely had an impact on him. After Mikhail Prokhorov said the Nets were out of trade talks for Anthony and cancelled a meeting with the Nuggets star, Harris’ game and focus changed.
He didn’t finish the last game because of a shin injury and it seemed to tighten up a little during this game. But Harris followed up a career-high 16-assist night Saturday with a new personal best 18-assist performance against Melo and the Nuggets.
Anthony Morrow, who was injured when talks heated up and never wanted to leave the Nets, was almost perfect. He shot 6-for-6 from the field, including 4-for-4 from three, but afterward lamented about missing one of his four foul shots. No matter, 18 points on six shots is about as efficient and effective as you can be.
Travis Outlaw, the starting small forward who would become a part-time player off the bench if Anthony came to the Nets, had one of his best scoring performances of the season. He scored 18 of his 21 in the first half, leading the Nets to a 63-50 advantage at the break.
And Ben Uzoh, a throw-in to make the salaries work, bounced back from two poor games on the road over the weekend. He struggled so much coach Avery Johnson used shooting guard Sasha Vujacic at the end of the Milwaukee game when Harris couldn’t go.
Johnson took a chance with about 6:35 left in the game and the Nets clinging to a five-point lead and took out Harris and put in Uzoh. In the third, Chauncey Billups took it to Uzoh almost every time down the floor.
But in the fourth, Uzoh came up with two stops and the Nets’ lead became 11 by the time Harris re-entered the game.
“This is a team that’s been persevering all year,” Johnson said. “This is a team that doesn’t make any excuses. They just come out and play.”
The Nets did that against Anthony, who had a huge game himself with 37 points. He thought it was "interesting" that the Nets had placards of Brooklyn strategically placed on the way to the Nuggets' locker room. A sell job was in the works.
Then on the court, the players had only one job on the minds and that was beating Anthony as they displayed some extra emotion and motivation and made sure they closed out this game.
“I don’t see why not they shouldn’t be extra motivated tonight, in a game like this, knowing their names have been in cohoots with the Denver nuggets the last couple months,” Anthony said. “If I was them I’d come out with extra motivation too.”
Yes, they’re a better team at home. But this was more about trying to show management they can beat good teams, that they don’t need a big star. One game doesn’t change anything, though.
The Nets still need a proven player who can do what Anthony did last night every night. They may be out of the talks because Prokhorov said so. But there are more than three weeks to go until the trade deadline. There’s no reason the Nets and Nuggets can’t talk again.
The more games like this, though, the better it is for the Nets. Their players’ trade values increase.
“We played awfully good. I’m awfully happy with my team tonight - their overall performance, their body language. I’m proud of our guys. I’ve been telling you I love this team through thick and thin. This team they play hard, they’re very coachable. We’re playing against a veteran team that’s really good offensively and we hung in there.”
- Johnson on the Nets' performance
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Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)