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Nets vs. Pelicans: Anthony Davis a Major Challenge for Brooklyn Defense

NEW ORLEANS — The Brooklyn Nets take on the New Orleans Pelicans tonight coming off their strongest defensive effort the season, particularly a second-half lockdown that propelled them to a lead as large as 23 points in their 102-86 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It was the fewest points the Nets had given up in a road game since February 2015, and their 87.8 defensive rating for the game was their lowest of the season. After Cleveland stayed in the game early by seizing on 12 offensive rebounds to add 12 second-chance points and forge a halftime tie at 45, the Nets were stronger on the boards in the second half, limiting the Cavs to just four offensive rebounds after the break.

Cleveland ended up with 53 rebounds total after grabbing 37 in the first half.

“It’s a key to the game,” said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. “We told our guys at halftime, they had 15 offensive rebounds or something. We’ve got to cut that back a little and we’ll have a chance. Giving up 86 points on the road to a team with Kevin Love and Rodney Hood and a lot of explosive scorers, I think it’s a heck of a job by our guys, heck of a defensive effort. That’s what gives you a chance on the road, an effort like that.”

Ed Davis had 10 rebounds in just 17 minutes, Jarrett Allen and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson each had eight, and Joe Harris and Caris LeVert grabbed six apiece. The Nets also held the Cavaliers without a 3-pointer on six second-half attempts. Cleveland finished 3-18 (16.7 percent) from 3-point range and 34-89 (38.2 percent) overall. Both percentages were the lowest the Nets have allowed this season.

“I felt like we locked in on defense, we got stops, we pressured the ball, we played smart, we limited turnovers,” said Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. “That’s when we’re at our best, when we’re playing with the pass, we’re being aggressive yet smart, and just playing basketball. Defense, that’s something we take pride in. Coming out locked in, playing defense, was something we talked about at halftime.”

CONNECTING FROM THREE

For the third straight game, the Nets shot at least 40 percent from 3-point range, this time making 41.2 percent (14 for 34) against the Cavaliers. That included a 6-for-10 third quarter that featured three triples from Jared Dudley as the Nets outscored Cleveland 38-17 in the quarter.

“Ball was moving side to side,” said Joe Harris. “(D’Angelo Russell) did a good job facilitating, Caris did a good job facilitating. We were giving up good shots for great shots. The ball was really moving around.”

Dudley and Harris each shot 4-for-5 from three for the game, and Harris is now 12-for-15 — an absurd 80 percent — over his last three games.

“Actually in Detroit I got pretty good looks too,” said Harris, flashing back to the opening night game when he and the Nets struggled from deep. “Just didn’t knock them down. I think it helps in that New York game I hit my first one and then it kind of comes a little easier after that. Same thing in Indiana, same thing last night. For me, whenever I get that first one to go, you have a little bit more confidence when you’re shooting throughout the rest of the game.”

SORTING OUT LINEUPS

The Nets have started the same five in each of their first four games — D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jared Dudley, and Jarrett Allen — but preseason injuries to three of last season’s regular starters — Allen Crabbe, DeMarre Carroll, and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson — had some influence on that.

The Nets have been able to bring some of those players back — Crabbe first, followed by Hollis-Jefferson Wednesday night in Cleveland. Guard Shabazz Napier, a summer free agent acquisition, made his season and Nets debut as well against the Cavs.

So there’s some player integration going on and groups of guys forming lineups for the first time.

“Especially guys that haven’t played together and you’re throwing them in there, there’s going to be competition for playing time, and that’s a great thing,” said Atkinson. “I think that’s going to push guys to get better and help us become a better team. Makes my decisions harder. That’s part of the deal.”

ABOUT THE PELICANS

After limiting Cleveland to 86 points, the Nets take on the NBA’s hottest offensive team when they play the Pelicans on Friday night.

“The ultimate defensive challenge,” said Atkinson. “Can we have another really good defensive performance against a great offensive team? They’re a little different. I think (Nikola) Mirotic kind of changes the equation when you have a four that can shoot like that, it just stretches you out, and then obviously a superstar. Got to help on him, and then that opens it up. We’ve got to have the right balance of helping on (Anthony) Davis but not helping too much where they’re just firing away threes.”

As the Pelicans have won their first three games, Davis has been outrageous, playing at an MVP level. He’s averaging 30.3 points, 13.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 2.0 steals, 3.3 blocks and shooting 59.3 percent from the field. With Portland last year, Nets center Ed Davis saw Anthony Davis eight times including their first-round playoff matchup.

“He’s a top power forward in the game,” said Ed Davis. “He gets a lot of calls. He’s a hell of a player. He can shoot it. He can put it on the floor. He can go left, he can go right. They run a lot of stuff through him. You’re not going to shut him down. He’s going to get his. You just want to make it as difficult as possible. I played against him a lot being in the West and playing him in the playoffs last year. He’s a hell of a player. He’s one of the top five players in the world. Those guys, they don’t get stopped. You just make it difficult for them.”

With Mirotic averaging 28.0 points on 54.2 percent shooting and grabbing 10.3 rebounds per game, New Orleans brings two frontcourt threats, making it difficult for Brooklyn to commit both its bigs to double teams. And guard Jrue Holliday is averaging 9.0 assists, third in the league.

The Pelicans lead the league in offensive efficiency with a 122.2 rating, up 13.8 over last year during the season’s first week. They’re also, like the rest of the league, playing at a faster pace, with six more possessions per 48 minutes so far.

“The defensive outing that we had we’re trying to take this to New Orleans,” said Harris after Wednesday night’s game. “It’s going to be a difficult test for us with the way that they’ve been paying offensively but you’ve got to stay consistent with your habits and deliberate in practice and hopefully we can keep this thing going.”

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