Denver Nuggets v Brooklyn Nets

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.

Coach Steve Clifford: Poor defense has led to Hornets’ losing streak

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 04:  Teammates Michael Kidd-Gilchrist #14 and Marvin Williams #2 of the Charlotte Hornets react at the bench as head coach Steve Clifford reacts during their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Spectrum Center on January 4, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hornets coach Steve Clifford points to one factor when explaining his team’s five-game losing streak – a lack of defense.

Charlotte went 0-5 on its recent road trip, surrendering an uncharacteristic 109.6 points per game during that span. The Hornets return home Wednesday night to face the Portland Trail Blazers, part of a stretch of five-game home stand which Clifford hopes will help turn things around.

But Charlotte’s fourth-year coach said nothing will get better until the Hornets start playing better man-to-man defense.

“It starts with our ability to guard our guy,” Clifford said. “When you get blown by a lot on the perimeter where you are constantly in need of help, then you are going to give up 3s – and that’s what is happening.”

The Hornets raced to a 14-9 start this season and were third-best in the league in points allowed through 23 games.

Since then, things have steadily fallen apart, culminating with Charlotte giving up at least 100 points in eight straight games. The Hornets have since dropped to 12th overall in points allowed.

The Hornets have fallen to 20-21 on the season and are on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture. It hasn’t helped that Nic Batum and Cody Zeller have been in and out of the lineup with injury problems, but Charlotte’s struggles on the road – where it has lost 11 of its last 13 – is concerning.

Zeller said the Hornets spent Wednesday morning watching cutups of defensive miscues over the last five road games.

“All four years I have been here it starts with defense,” Zeller said. “That is what coach Clifford preaches.”

The 7-foot center said it is mostly simple things that can be corrected.

“There are sets that we know are coming – and we just aren’t defending them right,” Zelller said. “We are making too many mistakes.”

Added guard Marco Belinelli: “We need to speak a lot more on the court and help each other.”

Getting the defensive mistakes fix won’t be easy.

After Portland, the Hornets host Toronto, Brooklyn, Washington and Golden State. All five teams rank in the top 14 in the league in scoring offense, with the Warriors being No. 1 overall and Raptors No. 3.

A year ago, Hornets general manager Rich Cho pulled off a quality late-season trade, landing “three and D” guard Courtney Lee. He proved to be the driving force on the team’s playoff run and played well in the postseason.

The problem was Lee did so well it made it impossible for the Hornets to re-sign him. Charlotte re-signed Batum and Marvin Williams, and let Lee walk in free agency. He signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the New York Knicks.

The Hornets figured with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returning this year from a shoulder injury they would be fine defensively, but the struggles are mounting.

Clifford wouldn’t discuss whether the team needs to make a similar trade before the NBA deadline.

As for the offense, Clifford likes what he sees.

Kemba Walker, a first-time All-Star candidate, is in the midst of the most productive season of his career, averaging 23 points per game while shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range.

“I mean he’s having a great year,” Clifford said. “He’s worked really hard and it’s paying off for him.”

Chris Paul to have surgery on torn ligament in left thumb, out 6-8 weeks

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When the Clippers last were without Chris Paul (then due to a hamstring injury), they dropped six games in a row. Granted, that was without Blake Griffin, too, but this team struggles on offense without the Point God running the show.

He’s not going to be running the show again for them until March.

Paul will miss 6-8 weeks due to a torn ligament in his left thumb that will require surgery, the team announced Tuesday. He is set to have surgery on Wednesday.

Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers will get a lot more run with CP3 sidelined.

The injury happened in the second quarter of Monday night’s game against the Thunder. Paul was trying to get over the top of a Joffrey Lauvergne screen when he ran into Russell Westbrook, who had pulled up to take a three. Paul’s hand was on Westbrook’s hip and got caught in his shorts and Westbrook elevated for the shot.

It looked serious as Paul walked off the court — he kicked a chair and was cursing, a sign that he knew something was very wrong. He went straight to the locker room, where X-rays were taken that found nothing broken. It was an MRI on Tuesday that found the damage.

The Clippers are the four seed in the West but are likely about to lose ground, being without Paul until March and with Griffin still sidelined from knee surgery (but should be back in the next few weeks, according to his timetable). Starting Saturday The Clippers have 10-of-11 games on the road — and the one home game is the Warriors. That’s a brutal stretch of games under the best of circumstances, and now the clouds over this team got much darker.

PBT Podcast: Debating NBA midseason awards with Dan Feldman

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Western Conference and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets and the Western Conference warm up before the NBA All-Star Game 2016 at the Air Canada Centre on February 14, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Russell Westbrook or James Harden for MVP?

Is Mike D’Antoni the runaway Coach of the Year?

Can anyone catch Giannis Antetokounmpo for Most Improved Player?

The PBT staff gave their picks for midseason awards already. Now Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports debate all of that, plus Sixth Man, Defensive Player of Year, and even takeaways​ from the Warriors win over the Cavaliers Monday.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

LeBron James reminds heckling Warriors fans he has three rings (VINE)

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 13:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers stands on the court during their game against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on January 13, 2017 in Sacramento, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Monday night was not exactly the best game of the season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They looked like a team on the final night of a six-game, 12-day road trip and they were mailing it in. Then they ran into a rested Warriors team looking to gain a little confidence. The result was a Red Wedding-level blood bath.

LeBron James was none too bothered. He was downplaying the rivalry and the importance of the game before it tipped-off, and after the game he rightly said this was not going to have any impact in June.

And when Warriors fans heckled him, he reminded them of the hardware — he’s got rings. Three of them. The last one at the expense of the Warriors.

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I’m going to miss Vine when it goes away.

Hat tip Matt Moore Eye on Basketball.