Through two wins over the Hornets and Spurs in which they never trailed, the Nets have begun to show they can manhandle the teams they are supposed to manhandle.
They avoided so-called trap games, tests more of the mind than body. The next tests will be more difficult.
The Nets will put their 12-game winning streak on the line to open a three-game road trip in Chicago on Wednesday, against a so-so Bulls team, before challenging matchups against the Pelicans (albeit without Zion Williamson) and Heat.
“Hopefully [we are] going to be a group that it doesn’t matter what the situation is,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said after the Nets cruised to a wire-to-wire victory over the Spurs on Monday. “Whether it’s the end of the year versus Charlotte, the beginning of the year versus San Antonio, whether it’s at home versus Milwaukee, whether it’s on the road versus Cleveland — we show up, we play. Whoever’s going to play, we hoop out.”
Since taking over in November, Vaughn has preached that the Nets take every game seriously, never looking ahead and rarely looking outside the boundaries of basketball. The message has been received.
The Nets came home from a three-game road trip to make a one-game stop in Brooklyn for the Spurs matchup before another road trip arrives. Vaughn said he never unpacked his suitcase.
“Felt good to be home, take advantage of that, and let’s take the challenge of playing three on the road,” Vaughn said before facing off with Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and the playoff-periphery Bulls. “I think we’ll be ready to play Chicago and move on from there.”
Afterward will be the Pelicans (23-14), who are fighting for the West’s first seed but have lost Williamson for several weeks with a hamstring strain. The always-dangerous Heat will follow.
If the Nets’ winning streak reaches 15, the first-place Celtics would be awaiting the Nets at Barclays Center on Jan. 12.
“We’re building trust on and off the floor, and it feels good,” Kyrie Irving said. “I don’t think we really pay attention to the streak. We just really want to play well for one another.”
Markieff Morris and Royce O’Neale, who both sat Monday with non-COVID illnesses, are probable to play Wednesday, the Nets said. Day’Ron Sharpe, who saw some time off the bench, will be on a G-League assignment, as will David Duke Jr., Kessler Edwards and Alondes Williams.
Lonzo Ball, yet to play a game this season after left knee surgery, will sit again for the Bulls. Former Nets center Andre Drummond (shoulder) is probable for the game. Tony Bradley (personal reasons) will be out.
Vaughn was named the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for December, when the Nets went 12-1.
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