NEW YORK (AP) - Brooklyn interim coach P.J. Carlesimo thought the Nets were lucky to have been only down by seven points in the first half against the struggling Phoenix Suns, a team that had only won twice this season on the road.
During Avery Johnson's final days as the Nets coach, that likely would have turned into a rout by the opposition.
But Brooklyn, which shot only 41.9 percent during its sluggish first half Friday night and allowed the Suns to shoot 53.7 percent, managed to bounce back with a strong second half.
Joe Johnson scored 19 points and MarShon Brooks added 17 points off the bench, leading the Nets to their fifth straight victory, 99-79 over the Suns.
``I'm very encouraged. I thought it was a great effort, considering the outplayed us in the first half,' Carlesimo said. ``It should have been, could have been, a lot worse at halftime than it was. It's not easy when you're not really playing (well) to all of a sudden get after it. In the second half we got after it. We defended very, very well. We were also better offensively. We really weren't good but we were a lot better than we were in the first half.'
The Nets have won three straight games by 20 or more points for the first time in the team's NBA history. The last time they did so was during the franchise's days in the ABA, Feb. 19-23, 1975.
Deron Williams, who was banged up a little bit, added 14 points and Andray Blatche chipped in 15 points and eight rebounds as the Nets ended a five game home losing streak against Phoenix.
Brooklyn is 2 games behind the Atlantic Division-leading New York Knicks and have been playing better as of late.
``I think we went through some bumps and some rough patches, you know, which taught us. We are jelling a little bit more now,' Williams said.
Jared Dudley led the Suns with 18 points and Shannon Brown had 15 off the bench as Phoenix lost its fifth straight and for the 11th time in 12 games.
Prior to the game, Suns coach Alvin Gentry spoke about some of the reasons why Phoenix has hit rock bottom in the Western Conference and pointed out at how the team would play well for long stretches during a game only to be outdone by spotty play during a few minutes and never recovering.
The Suns looked as if they were finally going to win on the road for the third time this season and the first time since November 27 at Cleveland but fell all apart in the second half.
Brooklyn trailed 53-46 at the half but limited the Suns to making just 9-of-38 shooting while the Nets hit 21 of 44 shots.
``Obviously it was a disappointing second half. We didn't execute offensively and we did a very poor job defensively,' Gentry said. ``It's almost as though we're starting to lose or confidence and we can't do that. I think you have to fight through all of that and continue to play, continue to execute. Once the game was even, I just felt like we didn't think we could win the game. We have to have our confidence when we walk out there to play. If we can play like we did in the first half, then we have to understand that we can play like that in the second half.'
The third quarter has troubled Brooklyn all season but they ended up turning things around this time, outscoring Phoenix 28-13.
Suns guard Goran Dragic felt as if the Nets took away any belief they had in winning the game.
``In the third quarter we barely scored any points,' Dragic said. ``Our chemistry and movement of the ball was just downhill. They took our confidence away.'
Brooklyn went on a 24-6 run that stretched into the fourth quarter after C.J. Watson's jumper evened it 60-all with 4:25 left in the quarter. Brooks, who had his best game of the season after not playing that much under Avery Johnson, filled in for Gerald Wallace, who left the game with an injury, scored the last six points of the quarter for the Nets.
After both teams turned the ball over to begin the final quarter, Williams drove past Dragic to make it 78-66. After a Phoenix timeout, Reggie Evans, who grabbed 15 rebounds, made a layup. Williams then found Joe Johnson to make it 81-66. Joe Johnson then came back with a 3-pointer to make it 84-66.
The Nets held Phoenix without a basket for 4 1/2 minutes before Luis Scola's jumper with 7:28 remaining in the game made it 84-68.
Brooklyn improved to 7-1 with Carlesimo as the interim coach but Joe Johnson, who felt ill and hardly got a good night's worth of sleep had no idea why the team has played so well after the dismissal of Avery Johnson.
``We have just bought into what P.J. Wants us to do on both ends of the floor. We are trying to get back to being defensive-minded and being the team we were when the season first started.'
With 6:09 left in the first quarter, Wallace went for a dunk but P.J. Tucker contested the shot. Wallace landed on his right shoulder and laid on the floor while a Nets trainer checked on him. Wallace was able to walk off on his own to the team's locker room. X-rays were negative but he did bruise his ribs.
The Nets are 14-0 against teams with an under .500 record this season.
NOTES: Williams left the game briefly in the third quarter with a thigh contusion. . Brooklyn is 4-0 when holding opponents under 80 points this season, 11-1 when the opposition scores less than 90 and 18-5 when the opponents fail to score at least 100 points.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
All Rights Reserved