Nets notes: Kidd takes some credit, Lopez downplays injury, and Pierce off the bench

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NEW YORK — A few leftover items from Thursday night’s big win for the Nets, the team’s third straight.

When Jason Kidd parted ways with assistant coach Lawrence Frank a little more than a week ago, it was viewed in one of two ways.

Either it was a desperate attempt to shift the blame for the team’s disastrous start elsewhere, or it was a power move intended to gain full control of the team from the coaching position after management surrounded Kidd, in his first year as head man on the sideline, with multiple talented assistants.

It seems more like the latter now that the Nets are riding a three-game winning streak, and the new things Kidd began immediately putting in following Frank’s departure are beginning to pay some dividends.

“We have a new system,” Kevin Garnett said following the 30-point loss to the Knicks last week. “We’re changing things on the fly. Jason has been putting in a lot of new stuff since [assistant coach Lawrence Frank] has left.”

When the questions came about the specifics behind Brooklyn’s blowout win over Los Angeles, Kidd subtly hinted that his system — along with getting players like Deron Williams back healthy — might have had more than a little to do with that.

“I would say the defensive side of the ball,” Kidd said, when asked what the difference has been these last three games. “The guys are executing the game plan. … The guys in that locker room, we’ve asked them to do some different things defensively. They’ve done it, and I think the trust factor on the defensive end has now led to the ball movement on the offensive end, and guys getting shots.”

Kidd mentioned the execution of the game plan twice more during his postgame remarks, and after perhaps dealing with some unfair pressure early on as his team was decimated by injuries, it seemed like a fine time for the coach to take some credit for putting a system in place that his healthy team is finally able to “execute.”

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Just as the Nets are beginning to roll, they may have yet another injury setback.

Brook Lopez left the game in the third quarter after crumbling in the post against Blake Griffin. He came out of the game briefly before returning to try to give it another shot, but the team trainer shut him down for the night a short time later.

In the locker room afterward, Lopez was in good spirits and didn’t have any tape, ice or brace on the injured ankle. He would have remained in the game if it was up to him, but even so, his status is up in the air for the team’s next game in Detroit on Friday.

“It’s doing well,” Lopez said. “I just twisted it a little, sprained it a little. I think I got hit by someone; I don’t really know what happened in the heat of the moment, but it’ll be alright.”

The last time Lopez suffered an ankle injury back on Nov. 15 in Phoenix, he similarly stayed in the game and played on it — but then he missed the team’s next seven. When asked if this situation might be similar, Lopez didn’t seem to think it was nearly as bad.

“I’ll know more probably later tonight or tomorrow morning, but it seems better,” he said. “Initially, last time I twisted it, it felt much more severe.”

It would be a mild surprise if Lopez played Friday on the second night of a back-to-back, with the team likely taking the cautious route after dealing with so many early-season injuries. But then again, they may want to keep things rolling as long as possible.

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Paul Pierce came off the bench for the second straight game, and while he had said after his first stint with the reserves on Tuesday that he was fine with that role, he seemed less convincing when answering that same question Thursday night.

“You know, I’m playing my part in this,” Pierce said. “That’s what it is. I’m trying to lead the second team, develop some chemistry with that unit. So, as long as things keep going where we’re winning games, I mean, like I said, I’m sacrificing or whatever for the good of the team.”

Pierce still will see some time with the starters in late-game situations, and he isn’t going to say anything that will upset the delicate balance the Nets have achieved on this current winning streak. But it’s clear he would prefer to be in the starting lineup.

Utah’s Donovan Mitchell wins throwback Dunk Contest with Vince Carter tribute

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LOS ANGELES — The 2018 Dunk Contest went retro.

And it worked.

The throwbacks started with Cleveland’s Larry Nance Jr. going quick-change to pay tribute to his father, the 1984 winner of the Dunk Contest.

Nance later had the best dunk of the night, but it wasn’t enough in the face of Utah’s Donovan Mitchell‘s strong and consistent night highlight by his throwback dunk — donning a Vince Carter Toronto dinosaur jersey and doing VC’s famed 360 dunk — which got Mitchell the 48 points he needed to hold-off Nance and win the contest. It was over.

“Growing up I was a big dunker,” Mitchell said. “I wasn’t really much of a basketball player. I just dunked and played defense, and I watched a lot of Vince’s videos. I’ve been seeing what he’s been doing all year at his age, which is incredible.

“So I figured, you know, at my size if I was able to get it, it would be a great dunk and a way to finish it, you know. And actually, funny story is I haven’t made that dunk in like half a year. I tried it in practice the past two days and tried it this morning, didn’t make it. Tried it last night, didn’t make it… But to be able to make it was why I was so excited.”

Earlier in the night, Mitchell had done another tribute worn a Darrell Griffith jersey — Utah’s Dr. Dunkenstien, who went to Louisville like Mitchell — for an off-the-side-of-the-backboard jumping over Kevin Hart dunk.

“You know, just knowing your history, I think, is the biggest thing,” Mitchell said of the throwbacks. “Just understanding where this game originated, I guess the OGs of the game, I guess you would call it. But just understanding. Even if it’s just dunking. Whether it’s dunking in the NBA in general, Darrell Griffith, we went to the same school in college. I know Darrell very well. Both got drafted by the Jazz, and he was an incredible player. To be able to pay homage to him meant a lot to me.”

For my money, Nance had the dunk of the night, his first in the Finals, a double off-the-backboard throwdown that you had to see on replay to get (it wasn’t as evident in the building what he had done until it was re-shown on the big screen).

It was a fun contest all night long.

Mitchell (the leader in the Rookie of the Year race) started it off brilliantly — he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Larry Nance Jr. did his tribute to his father with his first dunk, and on his second one came from behind the backboard, going around the world, and threw it down hard. That got him into the Finals.

Oladipo missed all three of his dunks in the first round, which almost doomed his night. He, however, did a dunk wearing the Black Panther mask for his second dunk, which impressed.

Mitchell said he wanted to beat Dennis Smith Jr. because the Mavericks’ point guard had beaten him in dunk contests for years. Smith had one monster dunk, when he went between the legs and threw it down hard and got the full 50. It just wasn’t enough to get Smith to the Finals.

Nance started off the final round by bringing out his father again to throw an alley-oop to a windmill. Mitchell responded with a self-alley-oop to a windmill that was flat-out wicked. That got Mitchell a 50-46 lead after one round of the Finals.

Then Mitchell went to Vince Carter and “it was over.”

Larry Nance Jr. throws alley-oop to himself, throws alley-oop to himself (video)

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LOS ANGELES — Cavaliers forward Larry Nance Jr. immediately motioned for the replay to be shown of this dunk. It was necessary to properly appreciate it.

Best dunk of the night.

Donovan Mitchell won the dunk contest, though.

Larry Nance Jr. plays tribute to father — rock-the-cradle dunk in Suns uniform

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LOS ANGELES — Back in 1984, high-flying Larry Nance Sr. won the first NBA All-Star Dunk Contest with this set of dunks — most famously a rock-the-cradle move.

Larry Nance Jr. came into the 2018 Dunk Contest and went nostalgic — all the way back to the Suns’ throwback uniform and the same dunk.

That and a good second dunk got him into the Dunk Contest finals. In that round, Nance Sr. threw an alley-oop to his son for the windmill.

Donovan Mitchell throws alley-oop to himself – off second backboard (video)

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LOS ANGELES – Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell set a high standard with the first slam of the 2018 dunk contest.

Very creative. Very well-executed.

Looks like all that preparation paid off.