By Tom Dowd
After Wednesday night’s thriller against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Brooklyn Nets return to the court Friday night for a crosstown rivalry game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
“It’s going to be a great atmosphere,” said Trevor Booker. “It’s Friday night, so I’m sure the crowd’s going to be crazy. It’s going to be a great place to play tonight.”
The Nets are coming off that 112-107 win over the three-time NBA Finalists, coming up with big shots and big stops in the final two minutes after the Cavaliers erased an 11-point fourth-quarter lead and left Brooklyn trailing.
The win improved the Nets to 3-2 over the first week of the season, with each of their last four games going into the final minutes. They’ve won three of those four.
“We’re relentless,” said Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. “We get after … we just have that real edge. That real grit about us man, and I love it. It makes me smile to come in here and see these guys. It’s wonderful.”
SCORING IN BUNCHES
A week into the NBA season, the Brooklyn Nets are the NBA’s highest scoring team. They’re averaging 121.2 points per game, with a high of 131 in a loss to Indiana on opening night and a low of 112 in Wednesday’s win against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Barclays Center.
“We’re playing unselfish basketball,” said DeMarre Carroll. “Guys are moving the ball. We don’t care who gets the glory. We’re passing up good shots to get great shots. That’s what you want to do in this type of offense. You just want to keep playing unselfish basketball.
Last season, the Golden State Warriors led the NBA with 115.9 points per game. That was the seventh straight season the scoring average of the league-leading team has increased, and it was the most any team had averaged since the Warriors of 1991-92 led the league with 118.7 points per game.
Like last season, the Nets are leading the NBA in pace, the average number of possessions per 48 minutes. But while they finished last season atop the league at 103.58, so far in 2017-18 that number has jumped to 109.72. That’s 11 more possessions per 48 minutes than the “Seven Seconds or Less” Phoenix Suns of 2005-06.
As a result, Brooklyn leads the league in field goal attempts per game — 92.4. Plus, the Nets are shooting it better — 45.9 percent from the field compared to last season’s 44.4.
“We’ve been running the system the way Kenny (Atkinson) wants us to do it,” said Spencer Dinwiddie. “He also has a lot of room for us to improve so we can continue to get better. Long story short, we’ve made shots. At the end of the day, to lead the league in scoring you have to make shots, and that’s what we’ve done.”
The Nets have seven players averaging double figures in scoring, from D’Angelo Russell at 23.0 points per game to Dinwiddie at 10.2. That scoring depth, where typically all five players on the floor offer some type of offensive threat, combined with the relentless pace, makes the Nets difficult to defend.
“I think it puts a ton of pressure on a defense,” said Dinwiddie. “Sometimes all five guys on the floor can shoot threes and are versatile offensively and you have to worry about them attacking. I think we put pressure on a defense. A lot of that is also due to coach Kenny’s style. So he’s got some pieces in here that fits his style and I think you see it on the court.”
RONDAE STARTS FAST
Third-year forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson has offered evidence of a huge leap in his offensive game over the first week of the season.
“Staying focused. Staying locked in,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “Understanding you’ll have some ups, you’ll have some downs. It’s about having that next play mentality and staying focused on the task, and the task is to win the game. It’s bigger than yourself. I understand that, and it’s helped me a lot.”
Over five games, Hollis-Jefferson is averaging 15.0 points per game compared to last season’s 8.7. He’s taking two more shots a game and his shooting percentage has jumped nearly 100 points. He’s also getting to the line more — shooting six free throws per game — and hitting 90 percent from there.
“I feel so comfortable, I don’t think I’m going to let someone make me take a shot that I’m not comfortable with,” said Hollis-Jefferson. “I know my spots and I know where to get to, and I fell in love with them.”
CARROLL FEELING FINE
DeMarre Carroll has been a do-it-all contributor for the Nets, averaging 15.8 points per game, second on the team, to go with 6.6 rebounds. 2.0 steals and 1.6 assists per game. He’s also shooting 40 percent from 3-point range.
Over the last two seasons, injuries have limited Carroll, but for the first time since 2015 he’s feeling fully healthy and comfortable on the court. After Friday’s shootaround, he praised the Nets performance team for their work.
“They understand the body to the T,” said Carroll. “They’ve got a lot of guys with a lot of different opinions in there, but everybody’s on the same page. Everybody has a common goal. You’ve got an individual who works with you daily. That’s the beauty of it. Sometimes you can get to teams and you might have only one person working with the whole team. But we’ve got different people in different slots, different times, different opinions. It’s been a blessing to have them.”
ABOUT THE KNICKS
The Knicks enter tonight’s game with an 0-3 record, last in the NBA averaging 93.3 points per game. They dropped their last game to the Boston Celtics on Tuesday, 110-89. Kristaps Porzingis averages 25.3 points and 7.3 rebounds and Enes Kanter averages 14.3 points and 12.0 rebounds.