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Nets’ improved bench has been key reason for hot streak

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The Nets have made a host of huge strides since coach Kenny Atkinson arrived. Nowhere are those strides more apparent than on their bench.

Atkinson always has used his backups liberally, giving them significant minutes. But now he actually has a good bench. And it was on display again Friday, helping lead the Nets to a 109-100 win over the Grizzlies.

“It’s huge. The bench guys are producing,” Atkinson said. “We can go to Shabazz Napier, who has done a lot in this league. We can go to Kenneth [Faried]. We can go to [Jared Dudley]. We have guys on our bench that’ve produced in this league.

“It’s not guys that are there, ‘Oh, I wonder if he can produce.’ In the past, it was that. … These guys are tried-and-true NBA players, so we can replace an NBA player with a good NBA player.”

The Nets’ bench outscored the Grizzlies’ 51-20, one game after dominating the Pelicans’ reserves 55-5.

Kenny Atkinson
Kenny AtkinsonAP

That’s a far cry from when Atkinson took over. After the Nets had the third-worst plus-minus in his debut campaign and the second-worst last year, they came into Friday 12th in the league — despite having been stretched thin by a decimated starting lineup.

“Guys are hungry for opportunity,” D’Angelo Russell said, “and as soon it’s presented, they take advantage of it.”

There have been plenty of opportunities presented, with starters Caris LeVert (foot), Allen Crabbe (knee) and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (adductor) lost to injuries. But on Friday, DeMarre Carroll had 20 points off the bench, while Spencer Dinwiddie added 13 points, five assists, four boards and was a game-high plus-17.

“Obviously our depth definitely helps us, one through 15,” Dinwiddie said. “During this most recent stretch, we’ve been decimated by injuries but found a way to still be cohesive and play well together.”

For perspective, in Atkinson’s first game as a head coach two years ago, his bench consisted of Joe Harris, Justin Hamilton, Anthony Bennett, Sean Kilpatrick, Chris McCullough, Luis Scola, Greivis Vasqurez and Isaiah Whitehead. Other than Harris, not one of them is even in the league anymore.


Treveon Graham added to that bench. He made his first appearance since an October hamstring injury, with two points, two boards and an assist in 11:42. …


The Nets used a 9-2 run from 4:20 left to the 2:13 mark to take a 106-94 lead. They never led by less than six the rest of the way.


The Grizzlies’ New York City-born Kyle Anderson — who went to both Paterson (N.J.) Catholic and St. Anthony in Jersey City — had his first career triple-double with 11 points, 11 boards and 10 assists.

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