In a development as stunning as their blockbuster trade last week, which swapped disgruntled superstars and sent shock waves through the NBA, the Nets won a basketball game.
The winless streak that had lasted over three weeks finally ended after 11 straight losses, with the Nets finding a branch to reach for during an all-out free fall.
That branch was the Kings, who are the third-worst team in the Western Conference and are also seeking stability following a trade deadline in which they overhauled their roster. For the first time in 24 days, the Nets were winners, 109-85, at Barclays Center on a Monday night when Seth Curry looked right at home in his Nets debut.
The Nets (30-27) still reside in eighth place in an Eastern Conference they were atop before the deep slump. But in the first game in which they welcomed some of the return from the James Harden trade, there were signs the worst could be behind them.
Curry led the new-look Nets with 23 points on 10-for-18 shooting and carried them when needed. Bruce Brown chipped in a season-high 19 points (plus six assists, five steals and three blocks) and LaMarcus Aldridge contributed 19 points and eight rebounds off the bench in his excellent return from an ankle injury.
Whenever the Nets are whole again, the hope is they have surrounded their powerful core with complementary perimeter shooting and enough strength down low. On a night they outshot the Kings, 51 percent to 34 percent — and Andre Drummond (11 points, nine rebounds) looked like a potential force underneath — the first steps were hopeful.
The Nets finally had reinforcements, which a squad that lacked Ben Simmons (who has reported to the team), Kevin Durant (knee), Kyrie Irving (lack of vaccine shot) and Joe Harris (ankle surgery) sorely needed.
They tried their league-high 32nd different starting five, incorporating Curry and Drummond alongside Brown, Patty Mills and Kessler Edwards. Combined with Aldridge’s play, Brooklyn looked far improved even without its tweaked Big 2 ½.
Mills drilled one 3-pointer, followed by Curry knocking his first down as part of a 13-2 Nets sprint to begin the game. With a running layup from James Johnson, they pushed the first-quarter lead to 35-16 and never lost the edge — but came close.
The Kings (22-37) cut into the gap in the second quarter and were down by just one, 55-54, in the third, led by guard De’Aaron Fox (26 points on 9-for-18 shooting). But Curry then looked like the best player on the floor.
In the decisive quarter, he glided in and sunk a lefty floater, then nailed a 3. His fadeaway made it seven straight points, giving Brooklyn a cushion it would not lose again.
The Nets scored 25 third-quarter points to keep distance from the Kings. Curry, on 5-for-6 shooting in the period, had 12 of them. Curry spaced the defense and freed up Mills for more good looks than Mills has seen in a month, showing exactly how much the Nets have missed Harris.
Drummond, one of the NBA’s top rebounders, showed limited offensive flow but intimidated plenty on defense — including a rim denial of Sacramento’s Richaun Holmes.
By the time Drummond slammed down a breakaway dunk to make it 78-61 in the third, the Nets’ bench was celebrating and the game was never in doubt again.
Perhaps it was the opponent, but the Nets looked like the more cohesive team on the court for the first time in weeks.
“I don’t think we’re worried. We’re excited,” coach Steve Nash said before the game. “I have a lot of belief.”
That belief stems from the players the Nets still await more so than the ones they have begun incorporating. Simmons, who was high-fiving teammates and chatting particularly with Blake Griffin on the bench, represents a tantalizing talent to pair with Durant and Irving — on the road at least.
The Nets will need more nights like Monday’s to stay relevant until their new Big 2 ½ can be united.