After a disappointing Nov. 30 loss to the shorthanded Charlotte Hornets, the Brooklyn Nets have won back-to-back games against the Orlando Magic and Atlanta Hawks, two playoff-caliber opponents.

Following a six-game absence due to a lower back strain, backup guard Dennis Smith Jr. returned and played a key role in both contests. Mikal Bridges pointed to Smith's two-way presence as a driving factor in Brooklyn's recent success.

“That’s like our vocal leader, man. He wants to win so bad,” Bridges said after Wednesday's 113-112 win at Atlanta. “I remember trying to get him to come to the Nets this summer. They asked me about him… When he was in Charlotte, I just watched him play defense and make the right play. I watched him play winning basketball on a team that wasn’t winning.

“I’m just like, ‘I know a winning player when I see one.’ And they asked me about him, I was like, ‘Hell yeah.’”

The minimum offseason signing posted 13 points, three rebounds, four assists and two steals on 4-of-7 shooting vs. the Hawks. He played a crucial role in slowing down Trae Young, holding the Atlanta star to 11 points with two assists and four turnovers during his minutes guarding him.

After Mikal Bridges drained a go-ahead jumper with 4.5 seconds remaining, Smith forced Young into a miss on the game's final possession to seal the Nets win.

“Dennis was unbelievable when we put him in the game,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said. “At times we told him just to guard Trae Young and to figure out how to get through pick-and-roll and switching and not switching. And he was great, even to the last possession of the game, we had him in to guard Trae.

“He just has an energy about him. Whether it’s him getting a layup at the rim, whether it’s getting a defensive stop, whether it’s getting a 24-second violation because he was getting a deflection, the guys rally around that. He is very outspoken amongst the group and really loved amongst the group. Guys pull for him and it is contagious. Last time he didn’t play when we were here and we needed him tonight for sure.”

The performance came after Smith posted 10 points, 11 rebounds, six assists, two steals, and a block in 21 minutes during Saturday's win vs. Orlando. That marked the fewest minutes played in a 10/10/5 game off the bench in Nets franchise history.

“He's got some dog in him, and he brings that to the table every day, every game,” Cam Johnson said. “No matter if shots are going down, if the team's up or down. So you just gotta love that as a teammate and as a competitor.”