On Sunday night, with superstar Kevin Durant in town, Lopez and Young made their pitch on the court.
The victory allowed the Nets (12-33) to snap a five-game losing streak as well as end the Thunder’s seven-game winning streak.
“They [Lopez and Young] kicked our ass all night -- rebounding the ball, scoring in the paint. They did what they wanted to,” said Durant, who finished with 32 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in 41 minutes. “And we have to do a better job helping our bigs out down there. They kind of controlled the game, their bigs.”
ESPN.com reported this past Saturday that despite the fact the Nets, who could have about $40 million in cap space, appear to be long shots to land Durant over the summer, rival agents insist they’re in the mix.
Before the game, Durant was asked about the state of the Nets, who don’t have a permanent coach or general manager in place, and don’t have total control over their own first-round pick until 2019.
“They lost Jarrett Jack [for the season]. It’s hard losing your point guard. And [Rondae] Hollis-Jefferson was playing well for them at the time, but he [got hurt] and had surgery. They have a new coach [Tony Brown],” Durant said. “So, a lot of stuff factors into a team playing good basketball -- injuries and major changes factor in. And you’ve got all the talent over there, and sometimes it happens where you’re not totally focused and a lot of things are going on that may distract you from playing basketball.
“They had two injuries on their team -- guys who were starting -- of course it’s going to mess them up. That’s part of the game. We’ve been there, a lot of other teams have been there. It’s just a matter of playing hard every night, and that’s what they do.”
Lopez (season-high 31 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks) and Young (14 points, 14 rebounds) certainly did on Sunday night.
It didn’t matter who the Thunder, who were missing center Steven Adams due to injury, decided to put on Lopez -- the 7-footer was pretty much unguardable. Lopez was nearly dealt to Oklahoma City at the trade deadline last season before the Thunder backed out in the final hour. He scored 26 points and grabbed eight rebounds the last time the two teams met on Nov. 25, 2015.
“Maybe it’s a coincidence,” Lopez, who was coming off an eight-point, three-rebound performance last Friday night, said of his success against Oklahoma City. “But that’s the way I need to play every night. I guess I need to play every night like we’re playing OKC.”
Russell Westbrook added 27 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder (33-13), but they allowed the Nets to shoot 47.9 percent from the field and go 8-for-17 from 3-point range. Brooklyn came in ranked 28th in offensive efficiency.
“I wouldn’t say I’m satisfied [with the state of the team], but I like the direction that we’re going other than tonight,” Durant said. “It was a tough loss, but that’s what happens in this league. You come on the road and if you’re not locked in from the beginning, you’re going to lose the game. So that’s a lesson for us. If we don’t play with any energy, enthusiasm or passion, we’re going to lose games. Point blank. We can’t do that.”
“It’s always fun. It’s the mecca of basketball, New York City, and just to play here in front of these fans who enjoy the game of basketball, it’s amazing,” Durant said before Sunday's game. “You can tell when you walk into the arena, just being at Barclays [Center] and being at Madison Square [Garden], it’s just that pure basketball feel that you get when you walk in those areas. So, it’s always a joy.”
The Nets hope they left an impression.