For the second time in five games, the Brooklyn Nets tipped off on Tuesday without Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, and Jarrett Allen. And for the second time, they picked up a win. As you go through the reasons the Nets have won five of seven games on the NBA Campus and locked up the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, their depth, adaptability, and resilience are at the top of the list.
First it was the 119-116 win over Milwaukee, in which the Nets blitzed the NBA’s top defensive team for 73 points in the first half. They were sharp from the start again with 60 first-half points in Tuesday’s 108-96 win over Orlando.
“I stressed to them from day one that you want to give your coach a reason to play you, and to make it difficult to not play you,” said head coach Jacque Vaughn on Tuesday morning before the afternoon tip-off against the Magic. “And so we had some guys come out of that Milwaukee game who definitely did so. And so another opportunity for these guys to step out on the floor, compete and look forward to counting on them in the playoffs. You never know how this thing shakes out.”
It turned out to be more of the same and, in some cases better.
Start with Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, who took the lead again in the absence of Brooklyn’s top three scorers. After going for a career-high 26 points against the Bucks, Luwawu-Cabarrot gave the Nets an early boost with 17 first-quarter points against the Magic. They led 34-22 at the end of the first quarter and the lead never dropped below 10 points again.
Luwawu-Cabarrot finished with 24 points in 24 minutes, shooting 8-for-12 overall and 4-for-8 from 3-point range with seven rebounds. The 6-foot-7 wing has seamlessly slid into whatever role the Nets need him to fill in Orlando, whether it’s front-line scorer, defender, or second-unit sparkplug.
“(Jacque Vaughn) puts us in position where we’re confident, comfortable to be on the court and go out there and compete whoever is out there,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot. “Starters, no starters, whoever you are, we’re all humans and we’re all out there to compete. Just working every day, working on our game and with games like that we can show actually what we’ve got and what we’re working on, so it’s good to work out every day. We have a good group of coaches and they do a great job putting us in great position to compete and be in the best position on the court and do the best we can.”
With three 20-point games in seven contests, Luwawu-Cabarrot is averaging 14.1 points in Orlando while shooting 50 percent overall, 42.9 percent on 6.0 3-point attempts per game, and 89.5 percent from the line, with 4.0 rebounds per game. That’s after his shot briefly deserted him while he started the three scrimmage games at the 4 spot.
Luwawu-Cabarrot had stayed in Brooklyn and been a regular at HSS Training Center once players were allowed to start doing individual workouts.
“We had complete trust in his work and the work that he had put in,” said Vaughn. “Even with the slow start in the scrimmages, TLC had stayed around and worked on his body with the opportunities that he had, diligent and self-compliance of using the materials and apparatus that he had at his disposal. But at the same time putting in the work when we had a chance to get on the court. So definitely believe in him and will continue to believe in him.”
Jeremiah Martin matched Luwawu-Cabarrot’s 24 points against Orlando, and that was a career-high for the rookie guard out of Memphis. Martin had stood out defensively in the win against Milwaukee, then scored 20 points the following night in a one-sided loss to Boston.
Against Orlando, Martin was aggressive in getting into the lane and to the line, where he went 7-for-8 in addition to shooting 8-for-15 from the field and passing for six assists.
“Just working every day, taking every opportunity I get to get the extra work in, knowing I’m going to have a shot and knowing that I’m elite in the game,” said Martin. “It’s just doing the things that I work on, not trying anything new. I’m just trusting my craft. But the player development has been great, just working with all the coaches every day when we get in the gym and soaking up as much knowledge as I can. It’s just been great.”
Martin is one of Brooklyn’s two-way players, along with another undrafted, high-energy guard, Chris Chiozza, who has also taken on a significant role in Orlando. Luwawu-Cabarrot is a fourth-year player, a 2016 first-round draft pick, who began the season as a two-way player before signing a multi-year deal for a full roster spot in February.
That means all three have spent time in the G League with the Long Island Nets this year. Brooklyn has stressed the coordination with and importance of its development program there, and it’s paying dividends right now. Of the nine players who took the court for the Nets on Tuesday, six played a combined 73 games in the G League with Long Island this season, including Dzanan Musa, who had career highs of 17 points and six assists against the Magic.
“There’s a care and competence level that we try to have a high standard and a high regard in developing guys,” said Vaughn. “I think a big part of it is taking a whole man approach. It’s just not these guys on the court but off the court, and caring about them. And then I’m a true believer in the confidence that you can get while playing, when your staff believes in you, when your teammates believe in you, there’s just something to it, and that allows guys to play with freedom and instincts. And these dudes have been playing this game for a long time, so put them in positions to succeed and don’t overcomplicate this thing.”
With Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving out for the season, and Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, Wilson Chandler and Nic Claxton also not making it to Orlando, the Nets have upended expectations, and they know it.
“Everybody was laughing at us saying like the Nets were gonna look like this and seeing things all over the internet saying that we weren’t gonna do this,” said Martin. “So we just take that every day, every practice, keeping that chip on our shoulder, proving everybody wrong and showing everybody who we are.”