Moke Hamilton, SNYNets.com
NEW YORK — With the daunting eight game road trip on the horizon and Friday being the beginning a tough four games in five nights stretch, the Brooklyn Nets needed to get off to a good start.
The team had lost three home games in a row and have only two games remaining at Barclays Center for the entire month of March.
Though the Washington Wizards have become a better team with John Wall, the Nets needed to win on Friday night, and Deron Williams and Reggie Evans each did their parts to ensure that they did.
Williams made history from beyond the arc, hitting 11 3-pointers, including nine in the first half of the game. He helped the Nets open up a 27-point lead and helped the team cruise to a 95-78 victory in what was a bigger win that most probably realize.
With the victory, the Nets remain within striking distance of the Atlantic Division leading Knicks, who now lead the Nets by 2.5 games. More importantly, the Nets will head down to Atlanta to play at the Hawks on Saturday night before playing at the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday and hosting the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday. Though none of those four teams are rated amongst the NBA's elite, the Wizards entered Friday night having gone 8-5 over their last 13 games and the Atlanta Hawks are one of the teams the Nets will have to fend off if they wish to hold onto a top four seed in the Eastern Conference.
Of the Wizards eight wins, three of them came over the Los Angeles Clippers, the Knicks and these Nets, so the Wizards should no longer be considered an easy win, and that was true even after the club announced that rookie shooting guard Bradley Beal would miss the game with an ankle injury. Beal has come on as of late and is averaging 20 points per game over his last nine contests, so the Nets dodged a
Bullet Wizard with his absence.
By the time it was said and done, Williams turned in what was obviously his finest performance of the Brooklyn era. He was the man of the match for the Nets, scoring a career-high 42 points and hitting a franchise record 11 3-pointers. But Reggie Evans also put forth an effort worth applauding. Evans chipped in his third double-double of the season, scoring 11 points and grabbing a career-high 24 rebounds, besting the previous career-high he set back on Jan. 8 against the Philadelphia 76ers.
For Evans, in what was a bizarre but feel-good moment for both him and onlookers at Barclays, the Wizards employed a "hack-a-Reggie" strategy late in the fourth quarter. Despite playing only three minutes in the period, Evans was sent to the line 10 times. He made 3-of-10 free-throws. After his fifth and sixth attempts, the Brooklyn faithful got behind him and cheered him on vociferously.
Chants of "Reg-gie" broke out in Barclays even after Evans shot an airball from the free-throw line and when he was finally subbed out of the game with 3:07 remaining in the fourth quarter, he was sent off with a standing ovation from the crowd.
Evans exited the game as only one of three Nets playing scoring in double figures. Aside from Williams and him, Brook Lopez turned in 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds. The Nets didn't get much else from the rest of their roster, but on this night, they didn't need it.
Perhaps, in those few minutes, Brooklyn wanted to pay homage to Evans for his relentless pursuit of the basketball and his willingness to get his hands dirty on the defensive end, despite almost never reaping any of the offensive glory that professional players so often covet.
Though the Nets are now just 5-4 since the All-Star break, Williams has looked like a new man. "He's been excellent," P.J. Carlesimo said after Friday night's win. "I think most of it is because he's feeling better," he said, alluding to the ankle woes that have plagued Williams for most of the season. "He's not pain free, but he seems to be in a better place physically than he was before the break."
In the end, Williams turned in a season-high 42 points on 15-of-24 shooting from the field. He grabbed three rebounds and dished out five assists, as well. He has looked much better since the break, and the numbers clearly back that up.
In the nine games since the All-Star break, Williams is averaging 23.7 points per game and has made 57 percent of his shot attempts. He is also averaging seven assists per game and he has looked more like the player the Nets thought they were getting for their $100 million.
"It was just a good game for us," Williams said afterward. "The main thing was, I knew how bad we needed a win at home, so I wanted to come out aggressive."
Though the road will get tougher for Brooklyn down the stretch, Williams' increase productivity is something that should have both Nets fans and Carlesimo feeling more confident about this team's immediate future. As they get set to take on the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night, if Williams continues his hot streak, the Nets will find themselves in a tight battle for the Atlantic Division title.