Cavaliers-Nets Preview

The Associated Press

A soft spot in the schedule is helping P.J. Carlesimo get off to a smooth start as coach of the Brooklyn Nets.

One night after the Nets rolled past an opponent that hasn't won in more than a month, Brooklyn hosts a last-place Cleveland Cavaliers club that remains without its best big man Saturday night.

That should provide Carlesimo with a good opportunity to improve to 2-0 since taking over for the fired Avery Johnson on Thursday. He led the Nets (15-14) to a 97-81 rout of Charlotte in his debut Friday, the Bobcats' 17th consecutive defeat.

Team owner Mikhail Prokhorov said he planned to meet with Carlesimo on Saturday, and that he wants to be patient with the interim coach. But he didn't rule out the possibility of a coaching search at some point.

"P.J. is the head coach and if it becomes necessary, you know who the usual suspects are," Prokhorov said.

"I think we have a lot of trust in (Carlesimo) and really I want him to lead the team."

With the Nets in the midst of a busy stretch, Carlesimo said he will "tweak some things" but won't make any major changes right away.

"The problem we have, the challenge we have short-term is that we have six games in nine days and we're not going to make wholesale changes for sure," Carlesimo said.

Brooklyn, which lost 10 of its first 13 games in December, didn't need to modify much Friday. Brook Lopez had 26 points on 9-of-12 shooting and Deron Williams, who missed Wednesday's 108-93 loss at Milwaukee with a bruised right wrist, added 19.

Neither played in the fourth quarter after the Nets led by as many as 29.

"I felt we're a good team all year and we just hit a rough patch," Williams said. "We've got to fight our way out of it, so we made a step in the right direction tonight and we just keep going."

Even though Cleveland (7-24) has won its last two road games, the Nets appear to have another favorable matchup Saturday. The Cavaliers are 3-12 this month after losing 102-94 at home to Atlanta on Friday despite Kyrie Irving's 28 points.

"That's the 24th loss for us, and in 20 of them we've been leading going into the fourth quarter or down by no more than six points," coach Byron Scott said. "So we've put ourselves in position. We've been right there. It's just learning how to close games out."

Irving, a New Jersey native who grew up rooting for the Nets, is averaging 26.3 points in four career games against the franchise - his best against any opponent. His 34 points, though, weren't enough Nov. 13 as the Cavaliers lost 114-101 in Brooklyn.

Williams, Lopez and Joe Johnson each scored at least 23 points in the win over Cleveland as the Nets posted season highs in points and field-goal percentage (54.5).

Anderson Varejao had a career-high 35 points and 18 rebounds for the Cavaliers in that game but will miss a sixth straight contest Saturday as he continues to deal with a bruised right knee.

"I want to be back tomorrow, but I know that's not possible," Varejao said Friday.

Reserve guard Daniel Gibson also won't make the trip after sustaining a concussion against the Hawks.

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