For the first time in nearly a year, fans were in the seats to watch the Brooklyn Nets perform. And they witnessed a team continuing to ascend toward the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
The Nets will attempt another strong display for their limited in-person audience and run the NBA's longest active winning streak to eight games Thursday night when they host the Orlando Magic.
Brooklyn is unbeaten since a 122-111 loss in Detroit on Feb. 9, and Tuesday night 324 fans were in the seats to watch the Nets pull away down the stretch for a 127-118 win over the Sacramento Kings. The win came after the Nets swept a five-game road trip, doing so while Kevin Durant sat out the last four with a strained left hamstring.
Durant was out again Tuesday, although it is possible that he could return by the All-Star break. Without their leading scorer, the Nets showcased plenty of effectiveness, getting James Harden's sixth triple-double with Brooklyn and the best game of Bruce Brown's career.
"It's a trap game, so I was proud of the focus," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "It wasn't always pretty, but they wanted to win and they got the stops when they needed them."
Harden totaled 29 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds and is averaging 27.7 points during the winning streak. Brown set a career-high by scoring 13 of his 29 points in the fourth when the Nets ended the game on a 17-9 spurt while playing a home game in front of fans for the first time since March 8 against the Chicago Bulls, shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic pummeled the New York area.
"It feels good," Brown said. "It gives us more confidence than we already had. So, we just gotta keep pushing and try to get more wins."
The Nets are seeking their first eight-game winning streak since winning 14 straight since March 12 to April 6, 2006. During this winning streak, they are averaging 121.4 points while allowing 112 -- down from the 118.4 points they were allowing through the Detroit loss.
Orlando was in the midst of a six-game losing streak when it dropped a 122-115 decision in its last visit to Brooklyn on Jan. 16 in a game when Nikola Vucevic scored 34 points. Since the first visit to Brooklyn, the Magic are 7-12 in their last 19 games, although they are playing better of late.
The loss to Brooklyn was part of a 3-15 slide that lasted through a 111-105 loss at Golden State on Feb. 11, but Orlando is 4-2 in its last six games. The Magic won three straight before shooting 37.5 percent in Tuesday's 105-93 home loss to the Detroit Pistons.
"For the most part, we just came out slow," Orlando's Terrence Ross said. "It's not something that happens all the time. It was just one of those days where everybody's a little tired, a little slow, a little fatigued. We didn't do a good enough job of fighting through it."
Vucevic led the Magic with 20 points after being named to the All-Star team, but Evan Fournier was held to 14 after getting 57 points over his previous two games.
An All-Star for the second time, Vucevic is averaging career-highs of 23.9 points and 11.7 rebounds this season. He is averaging 26.5 points and 13.2 rebounds in 11 games this month, a stretch that includes a 43-point game against Chicago on Feb. 5 and a 42-point showing Feb. 12 in Sacramento.
--Field Level Media