Maybe the Nets have learned from their squandered leads and blown endgames. Or maybe the Pelicans just stunk.
Either way, the Nets will take the result, a much-needed 135-125 victory over the Pelicans before 17,194 at Barclays Center on Monday.
They’ve disappointed through the soft early part of the schedule and now head out for their longest road trip of the season. Against the sorry Pelicans (1-6), it was a must-have game. And the Nets (3-4) went out and got it — barely.
Kyrie Irving poured in 39 points and had nine assists for the Nets, with Brooklyn handing out a season-high 32 assists and shoot 53.3 percent.
But that defense needs work — and lots of it.
“Be patient with us,” Irving said in a postgame on-court interview. “We’ll get there.”
The Nets survived a game-high 40 points from Brandon Ingram, who had been knocked out of the Pelicans’ previous game with a head injury.
He gave the Nets a headache Monday, especially Taurean Prince, who had been tasked with guarding him.
But Caris LeVert had 23 points for the Nets, while Joe Harris added 19 and a dagger 3-pointer in the final minute after New Orleans had sliced a 20-point Nets cushion to just five.
Jarrett Allen (18 points, 10 boards) and Prince (12 points, 11 rebounds) had double-doubles for the Nets, who now head out on a five-game trip.
The Nets are about to get some hard-earned experience and learn some tough lessons. They already stumbled through the soft part of the slate, with five of the first seven games at home — only two against winning teams from last season. Now comes the hard part.
On Thursday, the Nets start their longest trip of the season, a five-game Western swing to Portland, Phoenix, Utah, Denver and Chicago. The Bulls are the only sub-.500 team of the lot. They haven’t found their identity yet, but Atkinson hopes they will by the time they come home.
Brooklyn ran out to a 33-27 edge Monday after their highest-scoring first quarter of the season. But after extending that lead to 11 in the second, they came up empty on seven straight possessions and conceded an 11-0 run to tie the game midway through the second quarter.
The Nets responded well, closing the half on a 29-12 run. Allen had six points and Irving added nine points, three assists and a dazzling crossover against Jahlil Okafor for the final basket, sending the Nets into the locker room with a 17-point lead.
Still, they’d found a way to blow a 14-point cushion two days earlier to injury-riddled Detroit. And they seemed well on their way to topping that collapse, allowing the Pelicans hit 17 of their next 24 shots and cut the lead to 101-98 on Josh Hart’s layup with 6.5 seconds left in the third.
But Prince stopped the bleeding with a 3-pointer to end the period, and Garrett Temple hit another to open the fourth. It padded Brooklyn’s lead to nine, and Spencer Dinwiddie’s basket made it 109-98.
Brooklyn was still clinging to 112-104 lead when DeAndre Jordan went down. He got tangled up running for position and tumbled to the court near the basket. The center eventually got up and walked off under his own power; but he gingerly limped to the bench and didn’t return.
A 6-1 Pelicans run and Hart layup got the score within 121-119, and sent the Nets into a timeout with 4:43. But whatever Atkinson said worked, because they came out of the huddle with an Allen dunk and then an Irving turnaround jumper for a 125-119 edge.
It never got closer than four the rest of the way. And after Ingram pulled New Orleans within five with 1:43 left, Temple found Harris for a dagger 3-pointer that put Brooklyn ahead 133-125.
There was 52.9 seconds left in regulation, but they saw to it that there was no overtime.
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