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Nets head west looking to extend winning streak

Four-game string fueled by big men running and backcourt gunning
11/18/2012 1:44 PM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Joe Johnson and the Nets take their winning streak on the road Sunday against the Kings.(AP)
The Nets haven’t won five games in a row since the end of the 2010-11 season. But when they begin their three-game pre-Thanksgiving West Coast trip tonight in Sacramento (6p on YES), they’ll have a chance to extend their current winning streak to a quintet of games and run their overall record to 6-2 on the season.

Following Thursday’s 102-97 win over Boston at the Barclays Center, head coach Avery Johnson spoke about how having a presence in the paint and getting Brook Lopez going early are important keys to the team’s success – and despite Sacramento’s 2-7 record, that will be true in California’s capital tonight.

The Kings have a dynamic pair of young big men in DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson, and that duo was the brightest spot in Sacramento’s 112-96 loss to the Hawks Friday night; Thompson led Kings scorers with 19 points and added 10 rebounds, while Cousins nearly netted a triple-double with nine points, 15 boards, and seven assists.

“Anytime you can have a presence in the paint – and Brook was a presence – it’s good,” Johnson said after Thursday’s win. “He got the game ball, and it wasn’t just because of his (24) points; he had four blocked shots, and that’s something we’ve been asking him for and I know he’s capable of. We need him to have this kind of presence. It’s a big responsibility.”

Lopez had 10 of his 24 points in the first quarter, and getting him established early and often can be a great by-product of the Nets fulfilling another of Johnson’s wishes: playing at a faster pace.

“I think that fast pace fits us. If you have Deron (Williams), Joe (Johnson), and CJ (Watson) taking the shots, they’re capable of making those shots in transition,” Johnson said Thursday “I’d like us to play a little bit more at what we call a “phase one” pace, but if we don’t have anything, we’ve got to get to phase 2 and 3 and execute, because the really good defensive teams are going to take away those transition shots and then you’ll be forced to finish and execute.”

The Nets scored 31 first-quarter points against Boston, and against a Sacramento team that has allowed more than 100 points per game in the first nine games, the lethal one-two punch of guards in transition and Lopez in the paint can hopefully help Brooklyn gain confidence and get out to an early advantage again.

And that, win or lose, fits in to the culture Johnson hopes to build in Brooklyn.

“I think the best cultures are the ones that have a system that they can lean on that have no gray area,” he said Thursday. “For us, (that means) a system of accountability and discipline on defense, a system where we set some really good screens and can score points in the paint while defending the paint at the same time, (and a system) where guys feel free enough to take and make shots, especially three-point shots.”

Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroYES

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