The Brooklyn Nets came away impressed with Orlando Magic rookie Paolo Banchero.
“I like him a lot,” Nets forward Mikal Bridges said, via the YES Network’s official YouTube channel on March 26. “He’s tough. His handle…is way tighter than I thought. And the thing is, he’s still playing the right way. It’s tough as the No. 1 pick, with the team kind of losing, you probably want to just take yours. But I think the coaching staff over there is helping them, and just himself. He plays the right way.”
Banchero did not have his best game, finishing with just 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting but his Magic came away with the 119-106 win.
It hurts the Nets more than it helps the near cellar-dwelling Magic who are 13th in the Eastern Conference standings while the Nets are tied with the Miami Heat record-wise clinging to the six-seed by virtue of their conference record.
But Banchero did come into the game averaging over 20.0 points per game to go with 6.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists this season.
“Overall, I thought we were locked in,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said via the YES Network’s YouTube channel. “He was a big part of our scouting report – stopping him. His ability to get to the rim, his ability to continue to drive the basketball. And he’s done it on a nightly basis. So, as a young player in this league, he’s establishing himself, and good future ahead for him.”
The future may be now for the youngster who has been the favorite for Rookie of The Year from go, even if Bridges was not always among those hip to what makes Banchero special.
“I didn’t know too much about his game, honestly,” he said. “I watched him a little bit at Duke but I didn’t know. But watching him this year, and how well he plays, he opened my eyes a lot. And he’s one of those guys on the top of the list that you got to worry about when you play him.”
Mikal Bridges Stays Hot, Nets Keep Losing
Brooklyn shot 40.7% from the floor and 22.9% from beyond the arc in this contest. But Bridges kept his hot streak finishing just one point shy of his career-high (set against the Heat on February 15) with 44 points on 59.1% shooting, sinking 6-of-9 threes and stuffing the stat sheet with six rebounds, one assist, one block, and one steal.
“I don’t know I was just making shots just trying to get to my spots,” he said. “Usually I struggle here, personally, in Orlando. Just making some shots and then just trying to win. Just trying to make shots to keep us in and win the game. …I really don’t care [about his career high].”
Bridges refused to let tired legs be an excuse, instead giving Orlando credit for playing tough at home.
“There’s a lot of excuses in the world,” he said. “I mean that’s definitely one. Just the traveling and – not even 24 hours before – and having a tough game in Miami. Give credit to Orlando too like they’ve been playing well. I know you’ve been not winning all the games but they’ve been playing well. They play hard. You could tell that they got the chemistry out there, and they played harder than us.”
The 26-year-old swingman is averaging 26.8 points and shooting over 41% from deep adding 4.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and just a hair under 1.0 steals per game with Brooklyn.
Jacque Vaughn Weighs In on Mikal Bridges
Bridges would probably never say it. But he carried the Nets in this game and kept them in it as one of just three players to score in double-figures and the only one to surpass even 20 points. He got out to a hot start with 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting in the first quarter.
“I think besides Mikal we were 2-for-26 from three,” noted Vaughn. “So we were searching trying to find ways to score the basketball. …His approach was very aggressive tonight, from the beginning of the game. We needed that that – kept us in the game early.”
If the Nets — losers of six of their last seven outings — want to stem the tides, they will need someone else to step up.