Nets’ hot streak is over, but they’re just getting warmed up

Even after the Brooklyn Nets‘ fifth consecutive victory, Steve Nash described them as “a group that is looking for itself.” They’d crushed the Toronto Raptors 116-103, outscored them 35-17 within the third quarter and gotten 18 factors from James Harden within the fourth, however that they had additionally appeared sloppy for stretches. Within the closing minute of the primary half, Raptors rookie Scottie Barnes took the ball from Kevin Durant on back-to-back possessions, thievery that generated two uncontested dunks. 

“Offensively, there have been pockets of play the place we have been actually proud of it,” Nash stated Sunday. “We nonetheless should push to play that manner naturally and from begin to end. However that was a group that makes it very tough to play the way in which we need to play.”

How the Nets need to play is not all that difficult: Put stress on the rim, transfer the ball, create open pictures. They isolate extra typically than another group within the NBA, per Synergy Sports activities, a byproduct of getting Harden and Durant on the roster. All isolations, nonetheless, should not created equal. Nash stated just lately that Brooklyn is “turning into extra keen to get to second actions after which belief and transfer it and never play in opposition to a loaded protection.” The concept, he stated, is “to knock the primary domino down, get into early motion rapidly, with tempo, house and fast selections.”

On Monday in opposition to the Chicago Bulls, the Nets did not do that usually sufficient. They scored simply 38 factors within the second half and have been outscored 34-13 within the aggressive portion of the fourth quarter. After the profitable streak ended, Nash repeatedly bemoaned their lack of paint touches down the stretch. It did not assist that the Bulls dominated the possession sport, with a 15-9 benefit in offensive rebounds and 9 turnovers to Brooklyn’s 15.

“No circulate,” Harden stated, diagnosing what went flawed within the closing body. “No understanding of what was happening.”

Eleven video games in, the Nets are 7-4, with the third-best halfcourt offense within the NBA, per Cleansing The Glass, and the sixth-best halfcourt protection within the NBA. Harden has began to get his legs underneath him, and reserves Patty Mills (taking pictures 47.4 p.c from 3-point vary this season) and LaMarcus Aldridge (taking pictures 24 for 32 on lengthy 2s, per CTG) have already swung video games. Durant is taking over more offensive responsibility than he’s had in years, although, and the Chicago loss — through which he scored 38 factors on 13-for-24 taking pictures — bolstered Nash’s level: They are much higher than they have been in the beginning of the season, however they have not fairly discovered themselves but.  

That the Nets are in a extra nebulous place than anticipated will not be solely the fault of the unvaccinated and unavailable Kyrie Irving, though his absence undeniably set them again. Brooklyn misplaced some taking pictures with the departures of Jeff Green, Landry Shamet and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot in the summertime, and, when Harden is not getting downhill, they do not look all that Netsy. 

In movie classes early within the season, coaches confused the significance of spacing the ground correctly, displaying how taking simply two or three steps can put a teammate in a greater place. Too typically, when Brooklyn’s first motion did not work, possessions would peter out and finish with a contested jumper. Bruce Brown wasn’t even within the rotation for the primary two video games, so the teaching employees might check out James Johnson and discover minutes for Nicolas Claxton, Blake Griffin, Paul Millsap and Aldridge. When it rested Griffin within the third sport of the season, Jevon Carter moved into the primary 5. 

Since then, the Nets have began the identical group — Harden, Joe Harris, Durant, Brown and Griffin — each sport. They usually put each Durant and Harden on the bench at first of the second quarter, though in Chicago they did not sit collectively till the fourth. Claxton, the beginning middle on opening evening, has missed the final seven video games with a non-COVID sickness. His switching and vertical spacing will give the group a distinct dimension when he returns, the rotation will get extra crowded and sophisticated. Within the final two video games, neither Millsap nor Carter performed a significant second-half minute, whereas DeAndre’ Bembry earned prolonged run. 

Aesthetically talking, the Nets’ 117-108 win over the Atlanta Hawks final week was their high-water mark. They’d a season-high 34 assists on 43 discipline targets, they usually created 48 3s, greater than they did in any sport final season. “We knew coming into it that they seem to be a heavy shift group: they load up so much within the paint,” Harris stated. That meant the Nets simply needed to pressure the protection to break down after which make the easy cross. 

Even Harden, often reluctant to take catch-and-shoot 3s, noticed up for a deep one late within the sport:

If the high-quality “pockets of play” in Toronto felt vital, it is as a result of the Raptors’ model and personnel are tailored to make the Nets uncomfortable. You by no means know when Fred VanVleet will come at you with a random double-team:

Or when Nick Nurse would possibly throw out a zone to attempt to catch you off-guard: 

“They’re lengthy and athletic, they will junk up the sport, they will change every little thing, they will go zone, they will match up, they will entice, they’re nice at scrambling,” Nash stated. “And so it’s a must to be sharp.”

When the Nets are at their finest, “there is no catch, maintain and look,” Griffin stated at Scotiabank Area. Griffin additionally channeled former Brooklyn assistant coach Mike D’Antoni by saying that the ball finds power.

Earlier than going 4 for 7 from deep in Toronto, Griffin was simply 5 for 28 on the season. Final Friday in Detroit, although, he took a charge in crunch time and ran off the court docket placing an imaginary laborious hat on his head and imaginary steel-toed boots on his toes. These are the celebrations of the “Blue Collar Boys,” a membership that features Griffin, Harris and, as of Sunday, Mills. 

Durant took a cost in opposition to Toronto and put his laborious hat on within the locker room. “We discover and we recognize Kevin’s dedication to taking a cost,” Griffin stated, talking on behalf of the BCB and including that they won’t simply give Durant a membership. “The applying course of takes some time.”

Foolish as that is, it seems to mirror a severe dedication to protection and hustle performs, each of that are significantly essential with out Irving. “We’re not simply going to outscore folks,” Nash stated Sunday. 

The issue is that they’ve had intermittent issues with defensive rebounding, and their dry spells on offense have often coincided with opponents getting out on the break. In the event you’re bullish on the Nets’ means to get stops, you may level to their enchancment over the course of final season and the way in which that newcomers Bembry, Carter and Mills pester folks on the perimeter. As efficient as Aldridge and Griffin have been, there’s room for enchancment when Claxton will get again within the fold, too — maybe the Bulls’ scorers would not have caught a rhythm in the event that they weren’t getting such a gentle dose of drop protection.

Brooklyn’s opponents, nonetheless, have shot terribly from lengthy vary, and this could possibly be nothing greater than success. If the Nets are going to keep up their top-10 protection and turn into the balanced group they need to be, they are going to must restrict transition alternatives and show that is actual over the lengthy haul. Optimism is warranted, however for now it have to be the cautious type. 

Again in September, every week earlier than coaching camp, Nash dismissed the notion that his veteran group want to fast-forward to the playoffs. This season, he stated, represented “an opportunity to hopefully study much more about ourselves,” now that Brooklyn has some company information and observe time. Even with out Irving, it has already gathered some useful data. The Nets have not persistently performed championship-caliber basketball, however, as they get extra conversant in one another, you may see them rounding into kind. Final season, they have been 6-6 after they acquired Harden. It might need taken some time to get going this time round, however, in relative phrases, they’re forward of schedule. | Nets’ sizzling streak is over, however they’re simply getting warmed up


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