The Nets – no, make that the Nets in first place – have had a number of impressive wins this season. No one has possibly sent a more frightening message to the rest of the NBA than on Thursday.
The Nets – and debutant LaMarcus Aldridge – sat at the Eastern Conference for the first time since 2003 and looked like a team intent on getting there to stay. They completely gutted Charlotte 111-89 in fourth place at the Barclays Center, and made it through without Kevin Durant, James Harden and Blake Griffin.
The nets (34-15) ran Charlotte out of the building and did it with an amazing 26 combined all-star berths that were missing. But they had Kyrie Irving (15 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists). They had a team high of 21 points from Jeff Green. And they had Aldridge, who immediately stepped into the line-up and looked gorgeous.
It turned out that the reports of 35-year-old Aldridge’s athletic death were grossly exaggerated. While Harden was scratched with a supposedly minor thigh injury – officially considered commonplace – Aldridge made his Nets debut after signing last Sunday. And it was impressive.
« [Harden] has given us a lot of wins this year and we can’t wait to get him back, but [Irving] is also one of the most incredible shooters I’ve ever seen, » said coach Steve Nash. « I think without James we are one less playmaker, so we have to play together, move the ball, move bodies, play at a little more pace to create opportunities for each other. »
Aldridge’s last game was 1 March, ironically against the same nets. After that humble 3-0 two-point attempt, he was postponed by San Antonio until a buyout could be reached. No rust was found on the hornets, however.
After Nash acknowledged that Aldridge would challenge DeAndre Jordan to start at the center, he put Jordan on a bench. Aldridge responded with 11 points, nine boards and six assists.
« You know, we’ll see, » Nash had said before Aldridge’s game. “We definitely want to ventilate the page so as not to overwhelm him. As we always say with a lot of these guys when they come back from injury or come out of a layoff like Blake or LaMarcus. We don’t want to overwork them prematurely and risk injuries.
« We want them to adjust again to play safely and that is goal number one. » Second, we’re just trying to integrate what we’re doing and figure out what we’re doing. We had an argument with the stay-ready group and wrote an offense today. So it’s pretty much the last minute here, but we’re excited to get him down on the ground and make him feel like a part of it, but also to get his basketball legs back. «
The Nets had stormed a 32-11 lead after the first quarter with a running dunk from Green, who was replaced by Aldridge as Brooklyn’s senior statesman.
The lead swelled to 45-18, when they forced the Hornets to miss 24 of their first 30 shots.
Back and knees may not age like fine wine, but basketball IQ and judicial awareness. Aldridge showed both by giving Brooklyn an 80:50 lead .
« I hope he can keep his usual minutes, » said Nash. « But we’ll see how it goes. It looks good and looks like it has no restrictions, but you never know how to get out of there and what it looks and feels like. But keep your fingers crossed again that he can play his normal number of minutes. «
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