Mikal Bridges emerging as centerpiece as Nets rout Hornets

These weren’t the stretches that Jacque Vaughn expected from Mikal Bridges.

The 30-point games.

The scoring bursts.

The responsibilities that come with being the Nets’ No. 1 scoring option.

But then came the first quarter Sunday of the Nets’ 102-86 win against the Hornets.

Bridges made his first eight attempts.

And on the ninth, he maneuvered left and pulled the same move that worked for so many of his others — two or three quick dribbles toward the block, a step-back jumper while fading away from the basket — while sliding into the corner as the shot settled through the basket.

He finished the frame with 19, along with 33 for the game, and paced a balanced offensive performance, blending with a Brooklyn defense that held the Hornets to 41 points in the first half.

The Nets (36-28) secured their first set of back-to-back wins since the Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant trades.

With last-place Houston awaiting Tuesday, their first three-game winning streak since December sits within reach.

Mikal Bridges had 31 points in the Nets’ win over the Hornets on Sunday.
Robert Sabo for NY Post

Following a difficult stretch playing the Bucks, Knicks and Celtics in consecutive games, the Nets are within a two-game span where it should be easier for them to emerge with wins — and easier to maintain their grip on a playoff position that started to slip away with just three wins in nine games following the trade deadline.

The Hornets had previously lost LaMelo Ball for the season, and the Rockets have won 14 games all year.

Bridges helped the Nets avoid falling into a trap and keyed their 70-point outburst in the first half, contributing 13 of Brooklyn’s opening 19 points.

He had a stretch of six consecutive points with the Nets and Hornets tied at 10, and Bridges beat Gordon Hayward and elevated for a shot from the second hash mark.

The next possession, he pushed his dribble toward the free-throw line and pulled up for a jumper.

But this time, the Nets didn’t necessarily need to score at that clip like other games to win.

Defense had been a work in progress since their roster was altered at the trade deadline and a potential blueprint for the future materialized with Friday’s win in Boston when the Nets overcame a 28-point deficit against the Celtics.

In the first half Sunday, the Nets only committed one turnover and forced seven from the Hornets.

They disrupted possession after possession, and Charlotte only hit 3 of 13 3-pointers and 34.9 percent of its shots overall during the opening 24 minutes.

On one possession in the second quarter, Seth Curry and Bridges trapped Hayward near the top of the key, and his dump-off pass to maintain possession was stolen.

Spencer Dinwiddie goes up for a shot against in the Nets’ win over the Hornets.
Robert Sabo for NY Post

Another poor connection on Charlotte’s next possession led to Dorian Finney-Smith and Spencer Dinwiddie forcing another Hornets turnover.

Brooklyn connected at a 52 percent clip from the field during that span.

Dinwiddie, who finished with 24 points, hit three 3-pointers, and Joe Harris (12 points) added three makes from beyond the arc, too.

One of the Nets’ worst scoring droughts of the evening came at the start of the third quarter, when they didn’t score on their first five possessions.

Bridges missed his first shots of the game, too.

But the Hornets couldn’t connect on shots during that stretch either, failing to trim the lead, and with 8:57 remaining in the third quarter, Bridges took possession outside the 3-point arc and went to the basket for a layup.

Cameron Johnson deals with a bloody nose during the Nets’ win over the Hornets on Sunday.
Robert Sabo for NY Post

About two minutes later, Bridges hit a 3-pointer in front of the Hornets’ bench to put Brooklyn up by 32 points.

A timeout followed.

The Hornets eventually trimmed the lead to 15 early in the fourth quarter, but the game was effectively over.

And after nearly a month of tinkering, retooling and trying to patch together his lineup, Vaughn’s buoyant lineup for the remainder of the season — with Bridges as an emerging centerpiece — has finally started to emerge.