When he was not soaring through the air for five first-half dunks, Mason Plumlee was grabbing rebounds while his veteran teammates sat back and enjoyed a career-best showing by the only rookie on the team with the league’s highest payroll.
Plumlee had a career-high 22 points and tied a career high with 13 rebounds in 28 minutes as the Nets led wire-to-wire in a 93-81 victory over the Pelicans.
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The Nets hoped for this kind of night when they drafted Plumlee, but maybe not right away due to the acquisition of Kevin Garnett and the presence of Brook Lopez.
“As a player, you always prepare to play,” Plumlee said. “You have your own vision of how things are going to happen. I was just like, ‘I’m going to be ready to play when they need me, try to earn some minutes and go from there.’”
Plumlee has tried to get ready by working in practice. How that translated in game speed on Sunday did not go unnoticed by teammates.
“In practice, he’s tremendous,” Andrei Kirilenko said. “He’s a guy who is tall and could move. In this league, when a big guy can move and get open and not just stand waiting for the ball, that’s very important.”
Plumlee showed his agility by making 8-of-10 shots for career bests in field goals and shot attempts. He successfully showcased his improvement on pick-and-roll plays and continued playing well since being named to the Rising Stars Game prior to the All-Star Game.
Plumlee has scored in double figures in three of his last six games, equaling his total from his first 33 games. He is averaging 11.2 points and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 64.9 percent (24-of-37).
His career night began with 40.5 seconds remaining in the first when he executed a pick-and-roll with Deron Williams near the baseline. The play ended with his first dunk, giving the Nets a 29-15 lead.
Plumlee’s second dunk came after New Orleans was called for a 24-second violation. He converted an alley-oop feed from Jason Terry with 7:10 remaining for a 36-19 lead.
The third dunk came about a minute later, following another turnover, and was identical to the second dunk, giving the Nets a 38-19 lead. Plumlee’s fourth dunk came when he maneuvered to rebound Terry’s missed 3-pointer and easily dunked for a 42-21 lead.
The one that seemed to bring the fans into it even more came with 4:15 remaining when Terry intercepted Eric Gordon’s pass. Plumlee had already begun his ascent when Terry’s pass connected and he executed a highlight-reel two-handed dunk for a 25-point lead.
“I’ve just seen the growth and maturity from Mason that we’ve all been waiting for,” Terry said. “Early on he played a lot, then he didn’t play as much, so his confidence kind of went a bit. He was down on himself but I told him to just keep working.”
“We don’t have a crystal ball but he brings youth, athletic ability and fresh legs, the ability to catch and finish and you see the hard work he’s put in since this summer,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “I think also his teammates believe in him and that’s something that you have to give him credit for, listening to the veteran guys like K.G. and Paul— them being able to help him understand the game.”
Plumlee had 14 points at halftime when the Nets led by as many as 27 before taking a 51-28 lead into halftime. He did not play in the third quarter when the Nets committed eight turnovers and saw 12 points shaved off the lead.
Plumlee’s night continued in the fourth as the Nets pulled away after taking a 71-60 lead into the period on a runner by Williams at the buzzer.
Plumlee’s biggest contribution in the fourth was snatching a rebound off a Luke Babbitt missed 14-footer from inside the foul line. Moments after reaching a double-double for the second time in his short career, he ran the floor, executed a pick-and-roll play with Terry and made a layup while getting fouled. The Nets extended the lead to 81-66 after Plumlee hit the free throw.
Plumlee surpassed the previous career high of 19 points on Nov. 16 at the Clippers by splitting a pair at the line with 4:12 remaining for an 88-74 lead. The Nets never let their lead slip under double digits and sealed the win when Plumlee converted a reverse layup with 25.1 seconds for the final margin.
“That’s my role right now,” Plumlee said of staying near the rim. “If I start knocking them down, coach will start telling me to take it. He definitely wants me attacking the rim, being aggressive and getting to the foul line.”
Alan Anderson added 13 points while Mirza Teletovic chipped in 13 points and 11 rebounds despite missing seven of eight 3-pointers.
All of this came in a game when Brooklyn’s starting five of Joe Johnson, Williams, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Shaun Livingston combined for just 34 points on 13-of-24 shooting. The Nets also committed 22 turnovers and won despite having 17 fewer shot attempts than New Orleans (83-66).
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.