With the Atlantic Division-leading Knicks slogging through an arduous Western trip, the second-place Nets are in Brooklyn with a chance to cut the Knicks’ lead in the standings before they begin their own long Western swing next week. On Tuesday, one day after a dismal defeat to lowly Philadelphia, the short-handed Nets rebounded with a thorough and systematic 108-98 victory over another last-place team, the New Orleans Hornets.
In an entertaining game that featured a head-to-head match between twins, Brook Lopez at center for the Nets and Robin Lopez at the same position for the Hornets, the Nets triumphed at what may be a pivotal juncture in their season — just before four consecutive days off and one game before an eight-game, 17-day trip.
“Bounce-back wins after disappointing losses are huge,” said Deron Williams, who had a stellar game playing without his backcourt mate Joe Johnson, who sat out Tuesday to rest a sore left heel. “It’s a nice setup to our little break, and it keeps some of the momentum we’ve been building going.”
The Nets have won four of their last five games and will host Atlanta on Sunday before heading West.
The game within the game Tuesday was between the Lopez brothers, and the result was a resounding victory for Brook, who not only had a game-high 26 points to his brother’s 15 points, but came through with the highlight play of the game.
With the Nets clinging to a 5-point lead late in the third quarter, Lopez took a pass just inside the foul line and soared over his brother for a powerful, in-your-face dunk that brought the Barclays Center crowd to its feet and gave the Nets a 72-65 lead.
Asked if he would talk to his brother about it after the game, Brook said: “I might try, but I don’t think he’ll put up with me for too long. We don’t talk on the court. I will expect the rest of my family to talk trash to him.”
Brook Lopez’s performance was one obvious story line, but the response by Williams and the Nets’ bench to the absence of Johnson was as pivotal.
Williams controlled the game nearly from start to finish, scoring 21 points with 13 assists and only 2 turnovers.
Where Williams left off, the Nets’ bench picked up, outscoring the Hornets’ bench 38-25. The backup center Andray Blatche scored 18 points, and swingman MarShon Brooks added a critical 14 points. Coach P. J. Carlesimo had Blatche and Lopez on the court together in the second half, and it proved effective, improving the defense and opening lanes for the guards.
“Having two guys with big bodies and long arms is good defensively, and on offense, they can set a lot of picks and move people around,” Williams said. “It’s a good combo.”
Brooklyn held a comfortable lead through most of the game, although the Hornets tied it at 78 with 20.6 seconds remaining in the third quarter. But Blatche, whose energy off the bench gave the Nets a boost throughout the game, made a layup at the buzzer ending the third quarter. Then Brooks opened the fourth quarter with a 15-foot jumper that also drew a foul. When Brooks made that free throw, the Nets lead was 5 points; it grew throughout the final quarter.
The Nets led by 9 points at intermission but lost some of their defensive intensity in the third quarter, which allowed New Orleans guard Eric Gordon, who led the Hornets with 24 points, to get free for some open jumpers. But every time the Hornets fought back, the Nets answered.
After the game, Carlesimo was relieved.
“I like where we’re at,” he said, and then with a nod to the upcoming schedule, he added: “After Sunday we start the merry-go-round of the rest of our trip.”