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Pacers looking for more consistency heading into matchup with Nets

NEW YORK — The Brooklyn Nets finally unveiled their new players, Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas, Friday night in Toronto.

The only problem was that their debuts occurred in Brooklyn’s worst showing of the season.

On Sunday, the Nets hope Stauskas and Okafor can contribute to a better performance and a win over the Indiana Pacers.

The Nets (11-17) obtained the former first-round picks on Dec. 7 from Philadelphia, but they didn’t play in the first four games due to a combination of the team being in Mexico City and a lack of practice.

Brooklyn is 2-3 since making the trade but has only had two practices since returning from Mexico. On Friday, it was considered sufficient for Okafor and Stauskas to debut and in an otherwise ugly 120-87 loss, the newcomers were a bright spot.

“They’re going to help us,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “There were definitely flashes of talent and some good stuff out there. Again, it’s going to take time. It’s a process, they have to integrate into the group and we have to help them integrate.”

Stauskas scored 15 of his 22 points in the first half as he hit five 3-pointers in 28 minutes. Okafor scored 10 points in 22 1/2 minutes.

“It was amazing just to finally be out there,” Okafor said after appearing in his first game since Nov. 7. “I had some cobwebs on me, but just to be out there running up and down and playing basketball was great,” That obviously was a tough one for us all, but for me personally to finally be on the court after not playing for so long, it was good.”

Stauskas and Okafor played in a game where the Nets were shorthanded without two starters. Allen Crabbe, who is 6 of 29 from 3-point range in his last three games, sat out with left knee soreness while DeMarre Carroll rested.

“It just felt great to be back on the basketball court,” Stauskas said after finishing two points shy of his career high. “I hadn’t played that much in Philly, so it felt good to run up and down again. And to see the ball go in a few times is always a great feeling as a player.”

On Sunday, the Nets will hope to see similar performances from Stauskas and Okafor in conjunction with a significantly better appearance from their starting lineup, which produced a combined 28 points.

Like the Nets, the Pacers (16-13) delivered a disappointing showing Friday, though the outcome was not as lopsided.

Indiana lost its second straight when it fell behind by 16 points and saw a comeback fall short in a 104-98 home loss to the Detroit Pistons.

Friday continued a trend of comebacks but with mixed results in recent games for the Pacers.

On Friday, the Pacers trailed 95-79 with 9:03 remaining and cut the deficit to two with 1:34 seconds remaining. On Wednesday, Indiana trailed by 11 with 4:45 remaining and cut the deficit to one in the final minute before taking a 100-95 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Before the two losses, the Pacers came back from 19 to beat the Denver Nuggets in overtime last Sunday and overcame a 17-point deficit to beat the Chicago Bulls on Dec. 6.

“I don’t know what’s up with us,” Pacers center Myles Turner said. “It’s like we play better coming from behind, but we can’t be that team coming down the stretch. We can’t put ourselves in that position.”

The Pacers have four wins when trailing by double digits but also have blown four double-digit leads, including a 19-point edge to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 5.

“The thing about basketball is you’re going to be put in that position more than once,” Indiana guard Victor Oladipo said. “Sometimes you’re going to come out on top, sometimes you’re not. The biggest thing is you just can’t get too down on yourself and you just got to continue to keep lifting each other up.”

Oladipo led the Pacers with 26 points Friday and is averaging 29.1 points in seven games this month. Turner added 24 points and eight rebounds and is averaging 16.4 points in his last 10 contests.

Former Nets forward Bojan Bogdanovic shot 2 of 11 Friday and is shooting 30 percent in his last four games. Bogdanovic, who was traded to Washington by Brooklyn at last season’s trade deadline, is averaging 15.3 points on the road.

Indiana is 12-4 in the last 16 meetings with the Nets. The teams began the regular season against each other two months ago as eight players reached double figures and the Pacers shot 52 percent in a 140-131 home win.

Original Article

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