By Jason Schott - @JESchott19
The Nets beat the Orlando Magic on Sunday night at Barclays Center, 97-88, and were led by Mason Plumlee, who is making a strong case for Rookie of the Year honors.
Plumlee was a key player off the bench when Brook Lopez went down for the season in late December, and took a spot in the starting lineup when Kevin Garnett missed all of March due to back spasms. Entering Sunday night, Plumlee has averaged 7.1 points and 4.2 rebounds this season.
On Sunday night, Plumlee had his fourth double-double of the season with 17 points and 11 rebounds. He shot 6-for-8, with most of those via highlight reel dunks. The best one might have come on a 3-on-2 fast break, with Jorge Gutierrez finding Plumlee in the center of the key for the big slam that gave the Nets an 83-72 lead with 9:35 left in the fourth quarter.
Nets Head Coach Jason Kidd said of Plumlee's impact on this team, "Mason's having a heck of a year. I think with his energy and the veterans on the team, he brings that excitement. His ability to set picks and play above the rim is something that you can see he does well. He's starting to rebound the ball for us. Again, he's playing at a very high level and we're going to need that for him to get better."
Looking at the boxscore, Kidd noticed, "Oh, he had 11 rebounds. Yeah, he was good tonight. Rookie of the Year, you can blame the coach. I dont let him shoot outside the paint, so I'll take the bullet for that. I think the big thing is that he understands his role and he does it well, and I think he's gotten better since the summer."
Plumlee said of how he is playing right now, "Just anticipating when guys are gonna hit me. They're hitting me in stride. It's all right around the rim so they're shots I should be making at a high percentage."
Plumlee played a good amount tonight alongside Kevin Garnett, and he said of that, "I thought that was good when J (Kidd) went with that lineup tonight just in case we have to look at that in the playoffs. I thought we handled it well. I thought it was smooth when Dray (referring to Andray Blatche) and Kevin were in there and I got to play with them for a little bit so it's something I can see doing."
The first half of this game could best be described as a track meet as it was fast paced, and Orlando took advantage of it to lead 49-46 at halftime.
As is now common for the Nets, they took the game over in the third quarter. The Nets went on an 15-0 run, starting with a Plumlee tip shot, followed by a dunk and a three form Mirza Teletovic, and threes from Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. It concluded with free throws from Plumlee to make it 70-59 with 3:23 left in the third.
Kidd said of the 15-0 run, "I think the intensity after halftime picked up for us defensively and I thought the turnovers were down. In that first quarter, I think we had seven (turnovers) where we weren't getting shots, but in that third quarter we came out with a little more urgency on both ends, both offensively and defensively."
D-Will hit a three to give the Nets their largest lead in the third, 13 points, at 79-66, with 34.9 seconds left, and they took a 79-70 lead into the fourth. Williams had nine points in the quarter, and Johnson had eight.
In the fourth, the Nets maintained an eight to 12-point lead, and their biggest lead, 13 points, came with 1:07 left when Teletovic hit a three to make it 97-84.
Mirza Teletovic led the way with 20 points on 7-for-12 overall and 4-for-7 on threes, and 6 rebounds. It was Teletovic's fifth 20+ point game of the season and his second in the last six games. He is now one of four players in the NBA this season to have four 3-pointers off the bench this season, joining Nick Young, D.J. Augustin, and Gerald Green to make that accomplishment.
Teletovic said of his offensive game, "To be honest, I'm really excited going into the playoffs. I think like everybody on the team, we're just trying to get ready for it. Just be in good shape and when you're called to be ready, come in and help out."
Williams had 16 points (5-10 FG, 4-7 on 3-pt), 5 assists, and 4 steals in 35 minutes. He has now recorded a steal in 29 straight games, a Nets franchise record, career best, and the best in the NBA this season. he has now recorded 92 steals this season, just shy of his career high of 96 in the 2009-10 season.
Johnson had 17 points (6-13 FG, 3-7 on 3-pt) with 3 rebounds and 2 assists. He extended his career-best streak of games with at least one three-pointer to 29, which is the longest streak in Nets' history. Johnson now has 160 three-pointers, and he passed Kerry Kittles on the Nets all-time single season three-pointers made list to move into second place, trailing only Deron Williams, who had 169 three-pointers last season.
The Nets edged Orlando on rebounding 43-31, and 14-8 on the offensive glass, a rare thing since they went to the smaller lineup in 2014. The +12 rebounding margin is the largest this season for the Nets and most since they beat San Antonio on February 6th. Ironically, one of the Nets' strengths, controlling the ball, went the other way tonight, as they matched their season high of 23 turnovers, set on November 8th at Washington.
The Nets improved to 44-36, including 34-15 since the start of 2014, and are in firm position of the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. They have two regular season games left, Tuesday at Barclays Center against the Knicks and at Cleveland on Wednesday. Plumlee said of the Nets' peaking now, "I think when we have everybody, the last couple of games we've been missing some pieces, when we're all together I think we're defnitely hitting our groove."