The Nets won their second consecutive preseason game, this time in a 112-102 victory against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Target Center on Friday.
The preseason finale, however, wasn’t about a win or loss result. It was about how the Nets looked on both ends of the floor before the games begin to count in the win-loss column.
The answer is a resounding “great.”
The Nets jumped out to an 11-1 lead in the first quarter, leaving Wolves fans — who stand until their team scores their first point of the night — on their feet until Rudy Gobert hit a free throw three minutes and 15 seconds into the period.
There’s a sign of the strength of the Nets’ defense. With no Joe Harris (foot), Seth Curry (ankle) or TJ Warren (foot), the Nets still have the depth to go toe-to-toe with a purported Western Conference contender. And with Ben Simmons, Nic Claxton and Royce O’Neale sharing the floro, the Nets flexed a stingy defensive muscle, something that hadn’t been seen in previous seasons.
Simmons fouled out in just 13 minutes of play. He tallied two points on 1-of-3 shooting from the field to go with six assists on the night. Before he fouled out, he accounted for Nets baskets on three straight possessions: First it was a running hook. Next, a halfcourt alley-oop to Claxton. Finally, a drive and dish to stretch five Markieff Morris, who was lurking wide-open in the left corner pocket.
It’s unfortunate that Simmons, who hadn’t played for 470 days before making his preseason debut, was the victim of suspect officiating. After checking into the game with five fouls in the third quarter, officials blew the whistle when he reached around Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns’ back with minimal, if any contact anywhere on Towns’ body.
But the Nets continued to move the ball and generate quality looks, which is exactly what they didn’t do in their iso-heavy offense last season.
Durant finished with 20 points, six assists and three blocks, including a four-point play shooting a three over a defender who slid under his feet on the landing. Irving scored a game-high 26 points on 8-of-17 shooting from the field and 4-of-9 shooting from downtown. And second-year center Day’Ron Sharpe came off the bench and put up 15 points and 13 rebounds in 24 minutes of action. Sharpe projects to see a significant increase in his role with Claxton as the only other legitimate center on the Nets’ roster.
Former Net D’Angelo Russell tallied 17 points and six assists, but the Brooklyn defense turned him over six times. Former Net Taurean Prince also tallied six points and six rebounds.
The Nets fared well against a team much bigger than them. The Timberwolves deploy two seven-footers in their starting lineup: Gobert, the perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate Minnesota acquired from the Utah Jazz, and Towns, who won last season’s Three-Point Contest and is a perennial All-Star because of his scoring ability.
It was a perfect way to end the preseason, with a wire-to-wire victory over an opponent poised to make a playoff run in the Western Conference. And next Wednesday, the games will begin to count, with the regular-season opener against the New Orleans Pelicans looming soon.