NEWARK, N.J. — The New Jersey Nets are growing accustomed to being led by the superb guard play of Devin Harris and the inside post play of Brook Lopez. Getting some help from the bench was a pretty nice bonus.
Harris scored 22 points and had eight assists Sunday, and Lopez added 16 points as the Nets defeated the Atlanta Hawks 89-82. But the main reason the Nets earned their second home win of the season over the Hawks was the play of their reserves.
Stephen Graham, who didn’t even play Friday night in a loss to Toronto, started for only the second time this season and scored a season-high 10 points with seven rebounds.
“You never know in this league when you’re going to get a chance,” said Graham, a six-year NBA veteran who entered play Sunday averaging 2.0 points in 16 games. “I pride myself in always being ready when my number is called. In my mind, I’m always ready to go.”
Troy Murphy also didn’t get off his seat Friday night, but he came off the bench Sunday, contributing eight points and five rebounds in 21 minutes. He came in averaging 3.4 points.
“All I’ve tried to do is stay ready, because I never know when I’m going to come in or go out,” said Murphy, a 10-year veteran. “I’ll take every minute I can get. It’s tough to get loose and get into the flow of the game without playing time. The whole thing has been difficult.”
Sasha Vujacic, playing in just his second game with the Nets since a three-team trade last Tuesday, scored 10 points off the bench, also his best point production of the season.
“It’s great to be out there and contributing,” he said. “It’s been a while since I played a very important role. I like this style of play and I like being part of this team.”
Nets coach Avery Johnson applauded the contributions of the little-used contingent.
“Everyone just has to be on the edge of their seats, ready to play,” he said. “They all made critical shots at big times. If we had to give a game ball tonight, it would definitely go to Murphy. He was solid for us. Sasha knows how to play and gets his nose in there. He looks like a fighter and always thinks the next shot is going in.”
It marked the second straight time that the Nets (8-20) beat Atlanta (17-12) in Newark this season, having earned a 107-101 overtime victory Nov. 23.
The Nets took the lead in the opening stages of the fourth quarter, scoring seven straight points to break a 64-64 tie. The Nets eventually pushed the lead to 83-73 on a 3-pointer by Travis Outlaw with 2:14 remaining.
Mike Bibby scored 19 points, and Al Horford and Josh Smith added 15 apiece for the Hawks, who lost for the fourth time in six games.
“We have to be able to take the good with the bad,” Bibby said. “We had a chance to put them away early and didn’t do it. We missed shots that our guys usually make.”
Atlanta connected on 11 of its first 14 shots to take an early 32-23 lead, but could not maintain the torrid shooting. The Hawks made just 18 of their last 60 shots (30 percent) and ended up shooting 29 for 74 from the floor for the game.
NOTES: Former Wimbledon and U.S. Open tennis champion Maria Sharapova was in attendance, seated under the Nets’ basket. Sharapova is engaged to newly acquired Net guard Sasha Vujacic, who was still wearing his Lakers sneakers during his second game with his new club. “I was hearing it from the crowd about my shoes,” Vujacic said. “I’m still waiting for my new shoes. Hopefully, I’ll have them for the next home game.” ... Smith didn’t exactly have the same success he had the last time he faced New Jersey. On Dec. 7, he scored a season-high 34 points on 14-of-16 shooting, the best performance by a Hawk player since Hall of Famer Bob Pettit in 1955. ... Jamal Crawford sat out his second straight game for the Hawks with a sore back. ... Kris Humphries’ string of double-digit rebound games ended at five.