Out of respect, LeBron James had said that his Cavaliers were going to treat their game against the Nets Wednesday night as if it were a game against the Warriors. That was nice and polite. What really happened was that the Nets treated it like it was a game against all the other teams they have been playing lately: They worked hard, gave it a shot for a while and did not have nearly enough.
It really did not seem to matter that the Cavaliers were coming off an embarrassing defeat against those Warriors. Cleveland did not come roaring out of the gate. Still, the Cavaliers wore down the Nets had a pretty easy time of winning, 91-78, at Barclays Center.
James scored 17 points without working up much of a sweat in 29 minutes. He did set the tone by breaking away for three sprinting solo dunks, including a two-hander that brought down the house. “It was a byproduct of our defense and us being aggressive defensively, getting into the passing lane. It allowed me to get out and in transition and get some easy buckets,” he said.
The whole night was easy for a team that lost by 34 points to the champion Warriors Monday, and trailed by 43. Kevin Love, who shook out of a slump with 17 points and 18 rebounds, said, “There’s really only one way you could go. You’ve got to respond after a tough game like the other night. I wasn’t the only one. A lot of guys played with a lot of energy and brought it.”
For a while, the Nets brought what they had. They avoided a wire-to-wire blitz by starting strongly. It took an 8-2 run for the Cavs to go up by six after the first quarter. They gradually pulled away as the Nets had no firepower to keep up.
“We’ve been playing like this all season. It’s not about who we were playing,” said Joe Johnson, who was matched against James and scored only three points.
It wasn’t as if Nets coach Tony Brown saw the Cavliers’ Monday score and said, “Uh-oh, we’re in for it.” Instead, he said, “We can’t harp on whatever points they lost by. We have to concentrate on how to play against them and try to play to the best of our ability.”
Their abilities were no match for the Eastern Conference’s top team, despite 16 and 14 points, respectively, from Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young and nine assists from Donald Sloan. Under Brown, the Nets are trying to push the pace more, but were outscored on fast breaks 16-4.
“The ball stuck a lot. I’m a big culprit in that,” Lopez said. “We had a lot of trouble initiating our offense. I thought we could have had more pace, trying to push it up there quicker. It’s on me to be the first big at times, getting up the floor, creating those numbers.”
Ultimately, the only number that mattered was the Nets’ 32nd loss against 11 wins — regardless of what James had said earlier to CavsTV: “We’re coming into their building and we know we should treat them just like a Golden State team.”
As special as it was to face the Cavaliers, it became just another night like most others for the Nets. “This team has had a lot of ups and downs and changes,” James said of the opponent. “We just wanted to try to continue to improve. And I think we did that tonight.