ATLANTA — The Brooklyn Nets had the rare opportunity on Sunday to protect a lead and coach Kenny Atkinson was happy to have veteran Jeremy Lin at his disposal to make it happen.
Lin was instrumental in helping the Nets run off to a 22-point lead and then take care of it in a 107-92 win over the Atlanta Hawks.
“We haven’t been in that situation a lot,” Atkinson said. “Jeremy helped matters a lot, milking the clock, taking a little better care of the ball, knowing when to get in the pick and roll.”
Lin and Brook Lopez combined for 42 points to help Brooklyn outlast Atlanta, which was playing without three starters and lost its seventh straight game.
Lopez had 23 points and seven rebounds and Lin scored 19 points, his most since getting a season-high 24 on March 14. Lin added eight assists, two steals and four rebounds for the Nets (16-57).
Brooklyn has won three of its last four, improved to 7-8 in March and broke a five-game losing streak in Atlanta.
“I do feel the improvement,” Atkinson said. “But it’s not about the wins. Before the road trip, I felt we were starting to improve. I felt like it was coming. Can we sustain it and finish these last nine games on a positive note? That’s the challenge to our group.”
The Hawks were playing without forward Paul Millsap and guards Kent Bazemore and Thabo Sefolosha. Millsap, the team’s leading scorer, missed his fifth straight game with left knee tightness, Bazemore sat out his fourth straight contest with a bone bruise on his right knee and Sefolosha was a late scratch with a right groin strain.
Atlanta (37-36) was led by Dennis Schroder with 24 points and eight assists. Dwight Howard had 19 points and 16 rebounds and Taurean Prince, making his first career start, had 17 points and six rebounds. Tim Hardaway Jr. scored 16 points and Ersan Ilyasova had a season-high 18 rebounds.
Brooklyn also got 11 points apiece from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kevin McDaniels and 10 from Spencer Dinwiddie and outscored the Atlanta reserves 46-7. Hollis-Jefferson had a team-high 13 rebounds.
“I thought our bench gave us a big boost,” Atkinson said. “After the Washington game (a 129-108 loss on Friday), our guys came back and competed a lot harder on the defensive end, despite giving up 26 offensive rebounds. We were scraping and fighting on every possession.”
Brooklyn took advantage of seven Atlanta turnovers and led 32-20 after one quarter. The Nets finished the quarter when Dinwiddie converted a four-point play after throwing in a long, off-balanced 3-pointer.
The Nets continued to take advantage and surged to a 22-point lead when Trevor Booker made a pair of free throws with 9:03 left in the half for a 43-21 lead.
Atlanta began its comeback, which was fueled by Schroder’s three-point play and Prince’s 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions. The Hawks got as close as seven points when Prince made one of two free throws to cut the lead to 55-48 at halftime.
“We dug ourselves too big of a hole,” Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We could never get back into it after the way we finished the first quarter, going into the second quarter. We just have to play better from the start of the game and we can’t have lulls like that and get down 20. Credit to Brooklyn. A lot of their guys played well.”
Atlanta closed the deficit to five points, only to have Brooklyn respond with a 10-0 run culminated on a driving layup by Caris LeVert that gave the Nets a 67-52 lead with 8:47 left in the third quarter. The Hawks got as close as eight points and trailed 78-68 after three quarters when Hardaway scored on a putback just before the end of the session.
The seven-game losing streak matched the one the team survived in November and December and dropped the club just three games above the playoff line.
Budenholzer said, “We’ve just got to keep working, coming in with the right attitude and right focus and just lay it on the line, outwork and out-compete our opponent and hopefully that will give us the best chance to win.”
NOTES: Brooklyn G Rondae Hollis-Jefferson started the game but left midway in the first quarter and was taken to the locker room. He had been fighting the flu. Hollis-Jefferson returned with seven minutes left in the first half and displayed no further problems. … Atlanta C Dwight Howard picked up the 12,000th rebound of his career. Howard earned his 48th double-double (and has had double-digit rebounds in 15 straight games. … Atlanta G Tim Hardaway Jr. made a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter to extend his streak to 25 straight games. … Atlanta will host Phoenix on Tuesday night. The Nets return home to play Philadelphia on Tuesday.