Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic combine for 71 points as Mavericks defeat Mikal Bridges, Nets

Royce O’Neale had 10 shot attempts in the first half of Tuesday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks, tied with Cam Thomas for second on the Nets. Only Mikal Bridges had more attempts through the first 24 minutes of action.

Pointing that out was not meant to be a slight toward sharpshooting forward. That is just not his role on this team. He averaged just 6.4 attempts per game entering the night. And when he is forced to jack up a ton of shots, as he did in the first half against Dallas, it is rarely a good omen for the Nets’ offense.

So it was not much of a surprise to see the Nets, who shot 38.3% as a team in the first half, trailing by 18 points at the break. Another cold shooting half, and a poor defensive effort through three quarters, were two factors that contributed to their 119-107 defeat.

But the outstanding play of Kyrie Irving and Luka Doncic were the deciding factors, as they combined for 71 points on 28-of-51 shooting.

“It’s difficult,” Bridges said. “Both [are] lethal scorers and willing to find other guys as well, so you see what they did tonight. But what they do when they’re both playing is tough to do. You just have to try to get as many stops as you can and play really good ball.”

Irving, who finished with a game-high 36 points, did not get a tribute video in his return to Barclays Center. Neither did James Harden last season. Kevin Durant got one when the Phoenix Suns visited Brooklyn last Wednesday. But Irving’s off-balance jumpers and spectacular drives to the rim were nationally televised on TNT for all to see. And the Nets, who allowed the Mavericks to shoot 50.5% from the field, did little to slow him down.

Bridges finished with a team-high 28 points for Brooklyn in the loss. Doncic, the NBA’s leading scorer, had 35 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists.

“We don’t have KD, [Kyrie], guys like that now,” Ben Simmons said. “So it’s more of a collective effort offensively and defensively. But it starts on defense.

Simmons had nine points, nine rebounds and seven assists in his first NBA start since Nov. 6. He believes his body is ready to return to the Nets’ starting lineup full time. He played 20 minutes against Dallas.

“I think I’m more useful starting than coming off the bench,” Simmons said.

The Nets (20-30) were without Cam Johnson (left adductor tightness), Lonnie Walker IV (left hamstring tightness), Dorian Finney-Smith (left ankle sprain) and Day’Ron Sharpe (left knee hyperextension) on Tuesday, which prompted G League call-ups for Keon Johnson and rookies Jalen Wilson and Noah Clowney.

Head coach Jacque Vaughn went with a 10-man rotation to keep fresh bodies on the court at all times and it did not do the team any favors early. They had no rhythm on offense and offered little defensive resistance.

“It’s tough for them, tough for us,” Bridges said. “We don’t have that much time together. We don’t have practice with them or they don’t play in the games. So the continuity is… knowing what we’re doing offensively and defensively is tough. But the [G League] guys did a good job coming in, playing hard and playing the right way.”

However, trailing by 18 points entering the fourth quarter, the Nets made a final stand. They knocked down five of seven 3-point attempts to start the final frame and cut Dallas’ lead nine with 7:54 left. Then a 3-point play from Spencer Dinwiddie made it a six-point game with 5:20 left.

“Extremely pleased that our guys showed some resilience and some fight,” Vaughn said.

But there would be no comeback on Irving’s watch. The eight-time All-Star responded with his fifth and sixth treys of the night to push Dallas’ lead back to 12 with 4:23 left — and those clutch shots proved to be the daggers.

Clowney played just four minutes on Tuesday, finishing with a dunk and a rebound. But Wilson played 18 minutes, including seven in the fourth quarter, and contributed 10 points, four rebounds and two assists in his first NBA appearance since Jan. 3.

“I just thought overall, his energy, we needed it,” Vaughn said of Wilson. “I felt it out there on the floor. I thought he had a great pace about him, whether it was going after a rebound, whether it was shooting an open 3, whether it was trying to defend with physicality, he checked all those boxes.”

The Nets will continue their homestand on Thursday against Donovan Mitchell and the Cleveland Cavaliers.