Everything changes when Kyrie Irving plays like a superstar.
Irving exploded for a season-high 48 points in Brooklyn’s 117-106 win against the Utah Jazz on Friday in Salt Lake. He is now the Nets’ all-time franchise leader in games with at least 45 points scored.
And it was a welcome sight given Irving’s offensive struggles since Kevin Durant exited the rotation with a sprained MCL. The Nets’ losing streak in games without Durant ends at four.
Irving finished with 30 points in Thursday night’s loss to the Phoenix Suns, but he shot 3 of 16 through the first three quarters. He shot 11 of 27 in Phoenix, 7 of 20 against the Oklahoma City Thunder, and just 9 of 24 in Brooklyn’s first game without Durant — a loss to the Boston Celtics.
Center Nic Claxton continues his campaign for Most Improved Player of the Year.
Claxton recorded his fourth straight game with at least 15 points, tallying 20 on the night. He also extended his streak of games with at least three blocks to 11 with four on Friday night.
Two of Claxton’s rejections came in the final two minutes. After Jordan Clarkson scored on Claxton at the rim, Claxton responded the very next possession with an emphatic rejection.
One minute later, he blocked Utah’s Lauri Markkanen on a broken Jazz offensive possession.
Simmons’ scoring struggles
Ben Simmons continued his trend of being aggressive offensively but coming up short on the box score.
The Nets’ star forward finished with six points, nine rebounds and four assists. He shot 3 of 7 from the field and did not attempt any free throws.
Simmons has scored in double figures just once since the calendar year turned and is averaging 5.4 points per game in the month of January.
The Nets need Simmons to be more aggressive in getting to his shot while Durant is out with a knee injury.
Starting wing Royce O’Neale played at Salt Lake City’s Vivint Arena for the first time since the Jazz traded him to the Nets for a first-round pick last summer.
Jazz fans gave O’Neale a standing ovation, and the franchise played a video tribute for the three-and-D wing who spent five seasons in Utah as a key component on a number of playoff teams
And O’Neale responded by shooting the lights out to start, hitting three of his first four shots from downtown before cooling off later in the night.
Hot Hand Harris is back
Nets sharpshooter Joe Harris has strung together consecutive hot shooting games, a welcome sight for the embattled wing who has struggled to get his footing after double ankle surgery last season.
Harris (nine points) shot 3 of 6 from downtown after shooting 4 of 4 from 3 against the Suns on Thursday.