LaMarcus Aldridge has strong debut as Nets rip Hornets

The Nets — no, make that the first-place Nets — have a host of impressive wins this season. None sent a scarier message to the rest of the NBA than this.

Sitting atop the Eastern Conference for the first time since 2003, the Nets — and debutant LaMarcus Aldridge — looked like a team intent on staying there. They completely dominated the fourth-place Hornets on both ends of the Barclays Center court in a 111-89 victory Thursday night, and did it without Kevin Durant, James Harden and Blake Griffin.

“It was a great win. One of the best starts we’ve had since before the break, so that was positive,” coach Steve Nash said. “That’s a very good team. We obviously shot the ball well, but we defended, we got into people, communication was great, rebounding. We took care of business.”

With that veteran trio, with a staggering 26 combined All-Star berths, in street clothes, the Nets (34-15) held the Hornets to just 34.9 percent shooting and led by as many as 32 points.

And they did it with Aldridge not only making his Nets debut, but also playing his first game in a month — and looking great doing it.

“I had fun out there,” Aldridge said. “These guys are great. It’s a bunch of good guys that just want to win and play good basketball, so that makes it easy.”

The Nets made it look easy even tough Harden was scratched with a hamstring issue, which is believed to be a minor Grade 1 injury. He has been listed as day-to-day.

LaMarcus Aldridge shoots over Miles Bridges during the Nets' 111-89 win over the Hornets.
LaMarcus Aldridge shoots over Miles Bridges during the Nets’ 111-89 win over the Hornets.

Jeff Green scored a team-high 21 points, while Kyrie Irving had 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists running an offense that shot .484 and went 20-for-45 from 3-point range.

It turns out the reports of the 35-year-old Aldridge’s athletic demise were greatly exaggerated. He went right into the lineup for DeAndre Jordan, and responded with 11 points, nine boards, six assists and two steals.

“[Jordan’s] spirit was great. I told him, DJ, if you play or not play, he’s got to stay ready and have a great attitude,” Nash said. “And he’s bought in and he had a terrific attitude and support for his teammates. We’re all trying to play for something bigger than ourselves.”

Considering Aldridge hadn’t played since March 1 (an 0-for-3, two-point effort against the Nets before being bought out by the Spurs), even Nash was surprised at how quickly the center got up to speed.

But Aldridge wasn’t.

“I’ve been working. Just because you haven’t seen me on TV or you haven’t seen me on the stat sheet, I wasn’t just sitting on my couch,” Aldridge said. “I’m an older guy, so I know how to stay ready. I was surprised at how good my wind was, because I thought I’d definitely be more tired, but I felt great.”

Aldridge fit right into the Nets’ switching defense, bringing size and positional IQ. He helped them storm to a 32-11 lead after the first quarter on a running dunk by Green, whom he supplanted as the Nets’ elder statesman. The Nets held the Hornets to 4-for-23 shooting, and 1-for-10 from deep in the first quarter.

During one second-quarter stretch, Aldridge scored or assisted on 15 straight Nets points. A 12-2 run to open the second half padded their lead to 30, and it reached 84-52 when Joe Harris found Bruce Brown for a cutting layup with 5:45 left in the third.

“Incredibly proud, especially for a regular-season matchup against a team that’s positioned very well in the Eastern Conference and has been playing well as of late. So it was a great test to see where we were,” Irving said. “We should have more games like that honestly, where we’re the dominant team in the first quarter instead of playing from behind.”

Landry Shamet scored 17 points in his return after missing five straight games with a twisted ankle. Now, the Nets only can hope Harden returns soon as well.

“He’s doing pretty good. He had a scan and it was clear, so he’s day-to-day. So, we’re excited that it wasn’t worse,” Nash said. “So, big sigh of relief, and day to day means we will see him probably in the next few games for sure.”

New York Post

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