LaMarcus Aldridge, Paul Millsap make case for Nets playing time

LOS ANGELES — Paul Millsap and LaMarcus Aldridge are the two oldest Nets, but don’t think they’ve come to Brooklyn just to be sage advisers and little-used cheerleaders.

The two big men have come to play — and possibly alongside one another. The Nets have almost exclusively played four-out, rarely using two big men simultaneously; but if Sunday’s preseason opening rout of the Lakers is any indication, Millsap and Aldridge may not just play together, but play well.

“Wasn’t bad,” Steve Nash said of his two 36-year-old big men playing together. “Paul brings a versatility, and LaMarcus obviously brings his skill set as a true big for us. They’re both intelligent, know how to play, can play off each other, even if it’s not a traditional look for our team.

“They both had a really good camp. Both moved well, played well, showed their intellect and skill set. I thought they played quite well together even though it’s not something that we’ve necessarily done traditionally, played the two bigger guys.”

The Nets closed out the California leg of training camp against the Lakers. Kevin Durant, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Blake Griffin sat out, as did LeBron James and Russell Westbrook for the Lakers. But with Aldridge at center and Millsap at power forward, the Nets rolled to a 123-97 laugher.

Maybe Nash started them together to counter the huge tandem of DeAndre Jordan and Anthony Davis. Or perhaps — with Durant started almost exclusively at power forward last year and Griffin the incumbent at center — he wanted to see Aldridge and Millsap together in what could be a preview of their backup frontcourt.

LaMarcus Aldridge
NBAE via Getty Images

“We worked on different rotations in practice. Different lineups, and [Sunday] it was pretty smooth,” Millsap said. “And the way we play, we feel we can implement anybody in the system and be successful, so as long as we’re moving and we’re cutting and we’re playing for each other, it’s gonna look good.”

Aldridge, in his first live action since an irregular heartbeat was detected April 10 versus those same Lakers and forced his sudden retirement, looked like he’d never been away. And Millsap finished with a double-double: 10 points, 10 rebounds — four offensive — three assists and two blocks.

“He’s the ultimate pro. Puts the work in and when he gets on the court, he does his job,” Millsap said of Aldridge. “He didn’t miss a beat. He’s had a great week of practice. We all had a great week of practice.”

Aldridge had six points, four rebounds and tied a team-high with three assists in just 14:43, while his size was vital against Jordan and Dwight Howard. He’d beaten Griffin out for the starting center spot last year, ceding it only after his cardiac issue forced his retirement. But Sunday, he showed no rust whatsoever.

“He looked good. He had a good week of camp and it looks like he’s moving well. Confident. Doesn’t look like he’s missed a beat,” said Nash. “We’re really pleased with him. Excited, one, just to have him back playing the game, back with us, because we enjoyed having him last year. It’s icing on the cake that he played so well and looks good.

“It’s great to have him back. We really enjoyed having him last year for a brief period of time. We were all really sad and devastated for him when he had to retire. He was fitting into our team, but more importantly him having to step away from the game was tough. So to have him back is a great story, and he’s been not only a pleasure to coach but he looks good. Playing well, moving well. I’m almost a little surprised, considering the layoff and everything that went on.”

The pair provided guidance in camp for young centers Day’Ron Shape and Nic Claxton and even forwards like Kessler Edwards and David Duke Jr. They’ll be a resource as the season goes on.

“Me and LaMarcus are veteran guys, two of the oldest in the locker room,” Millsap said. “So we’re going to help try to guide some of these younger guys into knowing what the NBA’s all about.”

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