Starting Five: AK-47 a sparkplug for Nets

NEW YORK -- Brooklyn Nets forward Andrei Kirilenko knew his coach, Jason Kidd, was saving him for the fourth quarter.

And once he went back in after sitting for the entire third, Kirilenko did what he always does: bring energy, effort and passion.

Most importantly, over his nine minutes in the final period, he played fantastic defense.

The Nets are 4-1 since Kirilenko returned to the lineup following a 25-game absence due to back spasms.

Really, it’s no surprise the team’s play has picked up since he’s come back.

“Hey, I’m not the messiah. Don’t look at me like that,” Kirilenko said.

Fair enough. But AK-47 has been awfully consistent. During the Nets’ four-game winning streak, he’s averaging 8.3 points in 17 minutes a night.

The Nets haven’t given up 100 points in any of those games.

“We are on restricted minutes, so we got to juggle it as best we can,” Kidd said. “We didn’t want to sit him the whole third quarter, but we only had six minutes to spare and we asked him to go in there for the last minute. He’s on a time restrain so we had to obey by the rules.”

Kirilenko now gets the opportunity to guard LeBron James Friday night.

Oh joy.

“I mean he’s a great player,” Kirilenko said of James. “He’s probably the best player in the league. I always said like those guys like him, Kevin Durant. It’s impossible to stop them one-on-one. It has to be teamwork. I’m definitely going to do my best to try and prevent him from scoring easy points. Kind of make his job tougher, make him earn his shots, break his percentage down. And of course as a team we have to be very oriented defensive-wise on the switch on the help and do what we gotta do.”

Question: How do you think Kirilenko will do against James?

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Check it out: Following the Nets-Heat game, there will be a Red Bull (which sponsors Deron Williams) Midnight Run Finals, featuring the top eight players from cities, including Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, Indianapolis, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia and Washington D.C. Many of the players participating played overseas, in the D-League or were college standouts. Check out the complete schedule here: www.redbull.com/midnightrun. You can watch the top eight dunks from the competition here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p92IRfDD8Y0.

Up next: Practice Thursday afternoon