Nets’ Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson feeling love with return to face Suns

Dec 13, 2023, 12:35 PM | Updated: 1:26 pm

Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson of the Nets...

Mikal Bridges #1 of the Brooklyn Nets reacts with Cameron Johnson #2 after their 114-113 win over the Atlanta Hawks at State Farm Arena on December 06, 2023 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

You can take the boy out of the Valley, but you can’t take the Valley out of the boy.

Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, two pillars of the Suns’ rise out of a decade of NBA scuffling, return to face their former team as members of the Brooklyn Nets on Wednesday night with emotions still fresh from their February move out of Phoenix in the Kevin Durant trade.

“It’s familiar, I’ll say that,” Johnson said at shootaround Wednesday morning. “A lot of games played here, a lot of wins on this court. It’s almost like you never left.”

The present, however, consumes the pair. Brooklyn sits at 12-10 with a balanced attack, but it is still patching the roster together after last year’s trade.

Bridges’ breakout before and after the trade has continued into 2023-24, though he’s second in scoring (23.1 points per game) for the Nets behind third-year guard Cam Thomas (23.4).

Five Brooklyn players are averaging better than 14 points, including Johnson.

He and Bridges know the moment of their return will hit them a little harder come gametime Wednesday. Bridges was a first-round pick by Phoenix in 2018 by way of a draft-day trade. Johnson was also a draft-day pick addition the next year and was drafted 11th overall.

Familiar faces at the arena and a full crowd inside Footprint Center, they said, will likely hit them. They want to embrace the moment.

“They still show love and everything like that, it’s dope to see,” Bridges said of the Phoenix fanbase. “I watch games and as much as I want to root against them — I can’t. I got guys out there who I want to succeed with Book (Devin Booker), both Lees (Damion and Saben), JO (Josh Okogie).”

Bridges and Johnson will have time down the road to more deeply consider their impact on the Suns, who are 13-10 to start this season in a new era, where Booker is joined by Kevin Durant and Bradley Beal.

The current Nets helped turn around a 19-win team in 2018-19, putting in the work to grow an organization and a fanbase that had been down since the Steve Nash era ended early last decade. Phoenix reached the NBA Finals in 2021 before new ownership sparked a makeover.

Johnson’s best memories from his Suns tenure is the obvious:

“I’d have to say the Finals, those first two wins in the Finals (against the Milwaukee Bucks),” he said. “At that time, we were really on a high. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to but if you capture that moment in time, it’s pretty cool the way the city just loved it, cared for us, enjoyed the process with us.

“It shows you how the league changes. They tell you this all the time,” Johnson added. “It’s a business. It can come at you fast.”

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