CLEVELAND — Even through the Nets’ league-best eight-game winning streak, people still questioned the worth of those wins, the quality of the teams Brooklyn was beating.
Until Friday’s comprehensive mauling of Milwaukee. And after taking Christmas off, the Nets’ confidence is sky-high heading into Monday’s clash with fellow-contender Cleveland.
“We’re coming for everybody, man,” Nic Claxton said during his on-court interview after the Bucks win. “We’ve had a lot of disappointment over this season, these past few seasons. But things are rolling. We’ve just got to keep it going.”
The Nets knocked the 2021 champions off their perch atop the Eastern Conference. Now they’ll take on the Cavaliers, who have the best point differential in the league.
“It’s a big win for us,” Ben Simmons said of beating Milwaukee. “Next game is Cleveland, so [we have to keep it].”
After passing their test against Giannis Antetokounmpo, now Claxton (and to a lesser extent Simmons) will have to deal with All-Star center Jarrett Allen.
Claxton is the successor to and replacement for Allen. Brooklyn traded Allen partly because it couldn’t pay him, and also because the Nets needed a first-round pick to get James Harden and couldn’t flip Landry Shamet for one. But most of all, they had faith in Claxton to become what he’s blossoming into.
Royce O’Neale is getting back to his former form, after being overworked early and missing a couple of games due to personal reasons. He’d been second in the league in minutes logged to only teammate Kevin Durant before being sidelined.
The veteran wing has gotten progressively better in his four games back, making a scoreless return on Dec. 16 in Toronto, but scoring 11, 14 and then 17 points on Friday. He should be energized coming into Cleveland.
“Yeah, I should continue to apologize to him, taking him out to dinner,” Jacque Vaughn said. “That was on me, playing him too many minutes, but it was because I love what he does. And he ended up having missed two games.
“He missed the Indiana game, missed the Washington game, then he had to three days also. And I thought that really get him in a position where mentally and physically he was able to reload. Now you see the value that he brings to us on both ends of the floor. So I take the blame for running him into the ground for those first couple of weeks, for sure.”
Wing Joe Harris missed Friday with a sore left knee and he will sit against the Cavaliers on Monday. David Duke Jr., Kessler Edwards, Day’Ron Sharpe and Alondes Williams will also not play.
Kevin Durant is 16th on the NBA’s all-time career scoring list with 26,484 points, having recently passed Hall of Famers John Havlicek and Paul Pierce. Next up is 15th-place Spurs Hall of Famer Tim Duncan, a dozen points away with 26,496.
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