|Hornets hope to test Nets' improving defense|
When Kyrie Irving was on the floor for the first 11 games of the season, the Brooklyn Nets were amongst the highest-scoring teams in the league. In the month he has nearly missed, their focus has shifted to the other end of the floor.
The result is a 9-3 record while Irving recovers from right shoulder impingement. The Nets hope to keep the good times rolling Wednesday night when they host the Charlotte Hornets, with Irving sitting out again.
With Irving averaging 28.5 points, the Nets were sixth in the league at 116.8 points while producing a 4-7 record. Since Irving's last appearance, Nov. 14 in Denver, the Nets are averaging 108.8 points, which makes them 16th in scoring in that span.
During their first 11 games, the Nets allowed 119.5 points, the fourth-highest figure in the league. Since Nov. 14, Brooklyn is allowing 106.8 points, tied for the 10th-best scoring defense.
Brooklyn has allowed fewer than 110 points in eight of its last 10 games, including Sunday, when it recorded a 105-102 victory over the Denver Nuggets. The Nets got a go-ahead layup from Spencer Dinwiddie with 26 seconds left, then recorded two defensive stops to seal their latest victory as Irving and Kevin Durant (Achilles surgery) watched from the bench along with Caris LeVert (thumb surgery).
"Sometimes you find your identity by having your backs against the wall," Dinwiddie said after the Nets held a 48-37 rebounding margin and a commanding 66-22 advantage on points in the paint. "We don't have the luxury of being able to outshoot or outscore people, right? We got 80 percent of our salary cap out. We've got what should be 70 percent of our scoring out. (Irving, Durant and LeVert would average) 25, 30 and 18. You don't have any choice."
Dinwiddie is helping the Nets survive without Irving by averaging 23.8 points and 7.6 assists in the past 12 games with 10 20-point games in that span.
Two of Brooklyn's wins without Irving occurred against the Hornets. Jarrett Allen totaled 22 and 17 rebounds in Brooklyn's 101-91 home victory on Nov. 20, and Joe Harris scored 22 in a 111-104 win at Charlotte on Friday when the Nets handed out 35 assists and hit 15 3-pointers.
Charlotte has seven losses in 11 games since its last visit to Brooklyn. The Hornets are attempting to sweep a back-to-back set for the second time this season after recording a 114-107 home win over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday.
Devonte' Graham scored 29 points against Washington after managing just 12 on 4-of-17 shooting on Sunday in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks. He is averaging 23.7 points in his past six after being held under 20 points in seven straight games from Nov. 18-29 after he hit a game-winning shot against the New York Knicks on Nov. 16.
Graham's latest big night came in a game that featured 20 lead changes and saw the Hornets make 16 3-pointers while having six players score in double figures.
"We kept executing offensively," Charlotte coach James Borrego said. "We were still getting good shots on the other end, not turning it over, getting good looks, keeping poise. I think our guys did a great job executing, even through the storm. You've got to just weather it, get back, run good offense, and I think we did that."
--Field Level Media