Nets riding hot streak, improved defense into meeting with Heat

Andrei Kirilenko
Andrei Kirilenko has been a defensive presence since returning to the Nets’ lineup.
Credit: Getty Images

A lot has changed for the Nets in the 10 weeks since they opened their home schedule with a 101-100 win over the Heat.

The Nets take a four-game winning streak into Friday’s nationally televised meeting with the Heat. The run has their record at 14-21 and in eighth place in the Eastern Conference following two months of mostly negative events.

“We want to just continue to finish off this homestand and that’s the last team [and] the best team in the NBA in my opinion until somebody knocks them off,” Pierce said. “It’s another challenge for us. We’ve just got to stay humble, keep building on what we are doing right now and continue to defend.”

“We’ve just been coming out taking each team at a time,” Kevin Garnett added. “[The Heat are] a very good team — probably the best team in the league — and we understand that. We’ve just got to be prepared, and be ready.”

However, following a month in which Brook Lopez break his foot and head coach Jason Kidd was ridiculed for demoting Lawrence Frank from the coaching staff due to philosophical differences, perhaps the Nets have turned a corner and the process they spend so much time talking about is finally taking shape.

Since the calendar flipped, the Nets have talked about starting over and on the defensive side, especially in the fourth quarter, they have excelled. During this run, the Nets have allowed 76 points in the final 12 minutes of games while holding Oklahoma City, Cleveland, Atlanta and Golden State to 34.7 percent (25-of-72) shooting.

In three of those games, the Nets faced a deficit and each time they didn’t wilt.

After falling behind by 10 in Oklahoma City, they went on a 16-4 run over the final 6:54. After falling behind by one on Monday, the Nets held the Hawks to 2-for-10 in the final 6:36 and on Wednesday the Nets went from being down 93-89 with 4:06 left to winning by holding the Warriors to 1-for-8 shooting from the floor.

“To be honest, the confidence is in the fight,” Garnett said. “Jason has done a great job of just continuing to explain what he wants out of this offense. And I think we are picking it up slowly but surely.”

But the question is whether it will continue.

“Hey, I’m not the Messiah here,” Andrei Kirilenko said. “Don’t look at me like that. There’s a lot going on. It’s the new year, kind of a chance for us to start from scratch.”

Kirilenko is making an impact defensively just in time for the second meeting with James.

He has appeared in just nine games due to a back injury, but watching him defensively the last two nights it doesn’t seem that it’s a coincidence the Nets have won six of the games he has played in.

In the last four games, Kirilenko is a plus-9 and in the 68:43 he has appeared in during those games, opponents have committed 29 turnovers while shooting 50-of-109 (45.8 percent). However, in the last three games that figure is 36-for-84 (42.8 percent).

One of the nine games Kirilenko appeared in was the first meeting with James. James scored 26 points and Kirilenko was limited to 11:46 with 7:48 of that time coming while James was on the court.

Kirileno’s minutes have climbed from 10 minutes to the 20-minute range, and he figures to spend more time Friday when James is on the court.

“I mean he’s a great player,” Kirilenko said of James. “He’s probably the best player in the league. I always said those guys — like him, Kevin Durant — it’s impossible to stop them one-on-one. It has to be teamwork. I’m definitely going to do my best to try and prevent him from scoring easy points — kind of make his job tougher, make him earn his shots, break his percentage down. And of course as a team we have to be very oriented defensive-wise on the switch on the help and do what we gotta do.”

Williams out for the weekend

The prevailing thought is that Deron Williams will not only miss this weekend to rest his sprained left ankle but that he could sit out next week’s trip to London and return for the Jan. 20 game against the Knicks.

If the Nets do take that approach, Williams will have had two weeks of rest after getting a cortisone shot in both ankle joints, as well as platelet rich plasma (PRP) injections into the lateral ligaments of both ankles to relieve inflammation.

The Nets did not quite commit to keeping Williams out that long but definitively ruled him out for Friday and Saturday in Toronto, which means their depth will be used even more with Shaun Livingston likely playing over 30 minutes for the fifth straight game.

Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.



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