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Nets don’t disappoint with fans back in the building

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For the first time in 352 days, the Nets hosted real live fans at Barclays Center. And they didn’t disappoint them.

Brooklyn earned a 127-118 win over Sacramento — and a minor victory in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and the fight for at least a little normalcy.

The Nets (21-12) pulled away in the closing stages of the fourth quarter, using a 14-1 spurt to turn a one-point nail-biter into a league-high seventh straight win. And this one had some extra meaning — the extra spectators.

The last time the Nets hosted fans at Barclays, they beat the Bulls on March 8, 2020, in front of 15,916. But that seemed like a lifetime ago —with Jacque Vaughn still the interim coach, Kevin Durant still yet to suit up for Brooklyn, and James Harden still toiling in Houston. Oh, and the coronavirus still a thing that most in the U.S. hadn’t become intimately familiar with.

The pandemic saw last season suspended then restarted in the Orlando bubble. And it saw the Nets — and every other pro sports team in the area — to play in essentially empty buildings. That is, until Tuesday night, when Brooklyn welcomed 300 fans into Barclays Center — tested for COVID-19 beforehand and socially distanced during. But every journey has to start somewhere.

“Yeah, it’s nice. You know, it’s a nice change,” coach Steve Nash said. “We obviously have been playing in empty stadiums, for the most part, at least at home. And so to have some fans and a little bit of life, and energy will be nice. And hopefully we can safely incorporate more fans as we go here.”

James Harden and the Nets put on a show for the fans' first game back in Brooklyn.
James Harden and the Nets put on a show for the fans’ first game back in Brooklyn.
Robert Sabo (2)

The Nets kept pace with Philadelphia just a half-game from first in the East. They got another triple-double from Harden — who had 29 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds, all game-highs. They also got an unexpected 29 from the defensive-minded Bruce Brown, while Kyrie Irving chipped in 21.

Brooklyn’s defense was lacking, letting the Kings shoot 51.2 percent behind De’Aaron Fox (27 points) and Tyrese Haliburton (23). But the Nets did enough down the stretch to win. Barely.

They once again showed a galling habit of playing down to the level of their opposition. It’s something they claimed to have fixed, but on their stunning 5-0 western road swing, they faced all contenders except Sacramento.

Brooklyn has the best record in the NBA against teams .500 and above, at a stellar 12-2. But its 8-10 mark against losing foes coming into Tuesday implied a lack of focus against the league’s lesser lights, and the night’s struggle against the lowly Kings signified more of the same.

After Fox hit a 3-pointer with 7:07 to play, the Nets were clinging to a 110-109 lead that was tenuous at best. But that’s when they took control with a 14-1 spurt, capped by unexpected 3-pointers by Brown.

Brooklyn did storm out of the gate to lead 42-28 after one, their highest-scoring first quarter of the season. They even handed season-debuts to Nic Claxton and Imam Shumpert, and a rare second appearance for Andre Roberson.

But the second quarter saw next to no defense played. The Nets let Sacramento hit 10 of their first 11, and saw their lead cut to 54-50 on a Richaun Holmes dunk midway through the period. They responded with eight unanswered points to retake the momentum, but couldn’t get a grip on the game defensively.

Even after a Joe Harris’ 3-pointer capped the run and padded the cushion back to a dozen, Brooklyn couldn’t take command. The Kings kept inching closer, until they took a 96-95 lead on a 17-foot jumper by Haliburton with 14.3 seconds left in the third.

But Harris answered with 3-pointers to close the third and open the fourth. They gave the Nets a 101-96 lead that they did just enough to hold onto.

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Bulls’ Zach LaVine called cops on ‘obsessed’ fan at his home

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Zach LaVine had an unwanted visitor.

The Chicago Bulls star had to call the police after an “allegedly obsessed” woman showed up to his Chicago home and refused to leave on Thursday night, according to TMZ. 

The woman reportedly traveled from out of state, demanding to speak with the first-time All-Star, who was home at the time.

Police took her a local hospital for mental evaluation, and she has not been formally arrested or charged with a crime.

LaVine, 25, wrapped up first-half action with the Bulls on Wednesday and was drafted to Kevin Durant’s All-Star side for Sunday’s festivities in Atlanta.

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Blake Griffin a free agent after Pistons buyout

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Blake Griffin will be free to sign with the Nets or another interested NBA team after agreeing to a contract buyout with the Detroit Pistons.

The six-time All-Star forward “has interest from most of the NBA’s top playoff contenders and is expected to make a decision on his next team after conversations with prospective teams,” ESPN reported.

The Nets, Lakers, Heat, Warriors and Clippers – his former team — are among those that have expressed interest, according to the New York Times. ESPN.com added that the Blazers are interested

The 31-year-old Griffin hasn’t played since Feb. 12 while the Pistons attempted to trade him before the March 25 deadline, but they found no takers due to the remainder of his $36.6 million salary for this season and the $39 million he’s owed for 2021-22.

Blake Griffin was released by the Pistons on March 5, 2021
Blake Griffin was released by the Pistons on March 5, 2021
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Griffin is averaging a career-low 12.3 points and 5.2 rebounds in 20 games this season. He was dealt by the Clippers to Detroit in 2018, during the first season of a five-year extension worth $171 million.



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Broncos send a pretty strong warning to Drew Lock

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Drew Lock is no lock to remain the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback in 2021.

General manager George Paton and coach Vic Fangio both said Thursday that the team expects to bring in competition for Lock, possibly with the ninth pick in the NFL Draft.

“Obviously we’re always looking to bring in players at all positions that can raise the level of competition, and the quarterback is no different in that regard,” Fangio said, according to the team’s website.

“Until we get or until Drew proves to be the next great quarterback, like the ones that the Denver franchise has been used to in years past or certain teams around the league … are used to, we’re going to always try and bring in competition. But I have confidence that Drew can continue to improve.”

Lock made 13 starts in 2020 and tied with Carson Wentz for the league lead with 15 interceptions. He finished 32nd in the league among qualifying quarterbacks with a 75.4 passer rating, ahead of only Dwayne Haskins, Wentz and Sam Darnold.

Drew Lock faces the Patriots on October 18, 2020.
Drew Lock faces the Patriots on October 18, 2020.
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“Very talented, was inconsistent at times, has a lot to work on,” Paton said Thursday. “But I’ve spoken with Drew, I see him every day. He’s here early. He’s working. He really wants to be great. And we’re always going to try to bring in competition at every position, and quarterback as well. But I like the track that Drew’s on.”

Lock, the Broncos’ second-round pick in 2019 out of Missouri, had started five games as a rookie, winning four of them. Denver went 4-9 with him as the starter last season.

“I’m confident that Drew’s going to continue to improve,” Fangio said. “Drew’s had a great offseason up to this point. There’s not a lot you can do, but he’s working hard on his own, coming over here and getting workouts, and I know he’s doing a lot at home by himself, watching video by himself. He’s got a good setup over there. And he’s doing anything and everything he can to improve, even in February and now in March.”

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