Two victories and now two huge tests coming up for the Brooklyn Nets.
They sure look more ready under P.J. Carlesimo than in their final days under Avery Johnson.
Brook Lopez scored a season-high 35 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, and the Nets improved to 2-0 under their interim coach by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 103-100 on Saturday night.
Deron Williams and Joe Johnson each scored 15 points for the Nets, who fired Johnson on Thursday during a 3-10 skid and followed with two victories over losing teams. Now, they head off for major challenges at San Antonio and Oklahoma City.
"This can start something, so for us to get these two wins, we've got a little confidence going on the road, and we'll ride this confidence into San Antonio and try to get us another win," Johnson said.
Lopez followed his 26-point, 11-rebound performance in a victory Friday over Charlotte by shooting 13 of 20 from the field, making a number of timely baskets in the fourth quarter that the Nets ultimately needed to hold on.
CJ Miles scored a season-high 33 points and made eight 3-pointers for the Cavs, but Kyrie Irving capped a miserable shooting night when his tying 3-point attempt went in and out. He finished with 13 points on 5-of-16 shooting.
Tristan Thompson added 17 points and 15 rebounds for the Cavaliers, who played without center Anderson Varejao because of a knee injury. He had a career-high 35 points and 18 rebounds in the previous meeting in Brooklyn and perhaps could have slowed Lopez, who fouled out rookie Tyler Zeller.
Carlesimo is trying to prove that if the Nets can't lure top priority Phil Jackson out of retirement, they should keep him. It would help if the Nets can win in San Antonio, where he was an assistant to Gregg Popovich, or Oklahoma City, where he held his last head coaching job.
"I always liked both places, to be honest with you," Carlesimo joked about the difficulty of the trip.
The Nets, blown out in their final two games under Johnson, clearly take a better mindset onto the road.
"They played more good minutes of this last 96 and we won two games, so there's no question they're in a better place," Carlesimo said.
Carlesimo had a chance to spend time with owner Mikhail Prokhorov and other team officials Saturday during a lunch meeting. Then he picked up another victory, with Prokhorov watching from his box above midcourt and part-owner Jay-Z from his courtside seat right next to the Nets' bench.
The Nets got off to another strong start, as they did in Friday's 97-81 rout of Charlotte, but couldn't sustain it this time.
After their 15-point lead was cut to one early in the fourth quarter, the Nets seemed to have regained control when they went ahead 92-81 with 7:07 remaining. But Miles nailed two 3-pointers around a pair of free throws, cutting it to five, and the Cavs eventually got it down to 100-97 on Thompson's follow shot with 47 seconds to go.
Irving missed on a drive, but then followed Williams' free throw with a 3-pointer that cut it to 101-100 with 5.9 seconds to play.
Johnson made two free throws and Irving got a good look from straightaway, staring at the basket in disbelief when the shot didn't stay down.
"That was a good look. He just hit one prior to that, had pretty much the same spot," Cavaliers coach Byron Scott said. "It was a pretty good look. When it left his hand I thought it was going to be pretty close. But yeah, that's the shot we wanted."
Carlesimo provided little details of the lunch meeting with Prokhorov, beyond that they ate at a Greek restaurant in Manhattan. Carlesimo said they talked about food and a little about the team over about two hours in his first extended conversation with Prokhorov. Asked what he learned about his boss, Carlesimo said: "I think if we would keep winning games, that would be good. He definitely prefers winning."
Carlesimo kept his sense of humor about the situation, responding to a question about Jeff Van Gundy's candidacy by saying: "I told Mikhail today in no uncertain terms I didn't want him talking to anybody." But he was serious when asked if the ability to make any list of coaching candidates meaningless by winning games, as Mike Woodson did last season with the Knicks, was available to him.
"I think it's available. I think we need a win and there's also coaches that are available and that's not something I have any control over," Carlesimo said before the game, adding that the Nets played well Friday and would "just go at it like one day at a time and let's see what's going to happen."
Lopez had the first five points of a 13-0 run that turned a 15-13 game into a 28-13 Brooklyn lead. He shot 7 of 8 for his 15 points in just 9 minutes, then Miles scored 13 second-quarter points in pulling the Cavs to 61-53 at halftime.
"We're playing hard. It's just growing pains and learning how to play," Miles said. "That first quarter really didn't help the cause. We got off to that slow start. We played that way probably a couple of minutes into the second (quarter) and throughout the whole game."
Cleveland cut it to 79-74 after three.
Notes: Irving was averaging 37.5 points in New York this season. He had 34 in his first game here and a career-high 41 in a loss to the Knicks on Dec. 15. ... The Nets again played without forward Kris Humphries because of an abdominal strain. ... The loss left Scott, a former Nets coach, at 399 wins, remaining one shy of becoming the eighth active coach with 400.