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Key To Figuring Out Inconsistencies With New-Look Nets Boils Down To…
I’m stuck trying to figure the Nets out.
That’s understandable given that they have had to integrate four new starters after the dual blockbuster trades of superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in advance of the February 9 deadline. Still, the inconsistencies are frustrating to all fans, not just me. And that’s with realizing that if not for the meteoric elevation of wing Mikal Bridges’ game since coming over from Phoenix in the Durant deal, Brooklyn’s record would have been a lot worse than 9-13 since.
Then there are nights like Friday, where the Nets put it all together in running away from visiting Atlanta, 124-107. The win took Brooklyn (42-35) a step closer to clinching a top-six Eastern Conference seed that avoids the play-in round.
The Nets put the game away with a 42-24 third quarter blitz. Three’s were falling. The defense was flying around, generating four steals to help ignite 10 fast break points. And after corralling 12 offensive rebounds during the first half, the Hawks were shut out in the category over the next 12 minutes.
You’d be surprised to learn that such onslaughts haven’t been all that uncommon in Brooklyn’s post-superstar era. In other random quarters over the last 15 games, the Nets outscored Miami by 21, Denver by 19, Minnesota by 17, and Boston by 14. All led to victories over .500-plus teams.
The middling Hawks aren’t on the same level as the clubs above, but they did come into Friday’s game rested and ranked ninth in the league in offensive rating at 115.4 points scored per 100 possessions, per NBA.com. With star guard Trae Young held to 10 points on 3-for-12 shooting (including 0-for-5 on three-point attempts), their 107 points marked the fewest they had scored since February 15.
Unfortunately, such quality efforts have been more than offset by stinkers. A rousing win last week at seventh-place Miami was immediately followed by a deplorable loss at lowly Orlando the following night. Even Wednesday’s 123-114 victory over tanking Houston was marred by the same lethargic two-way performance that has cost this team dearly. If not for a late barrage of three-pointers, starting with one by Bridges with Brooklyn down by nine points with 8:38 remaining that went in after a favorable bounce off the front rim, who knows what would have transpired? To that point, the Nets were in one of their ruts where they settled for quick pull-up jumpers without first touching the paint and allowed the young Rockets to gain momentum and confidence with ineffective defense.
You wouldn’t think that a team like the Nets with so many world-class shooters would rank 18th in the league since the KD trade in three-point field goal percentage before facing the defensively-dreadful Rockets and Hawks. You wouldn’t think that a team with so many capable wing defenders plus an NBA All-Defense candidate like Nic Claxton in the middle would also rank 18th in points allowed per 100 possessions in that same span. As for defensive rebounding, never mind—their low placements in rebounding percentage and second-chance points allowed don’t seem to be out of whack.
Yet that’s been the disturbing record. Which brings me to the ultimate chicken-or-the-egg conundrum as it relates to the new-look Nets: II it the defense that spurs the offense, where the stops serve as fuel to get into a higher gear? Or does making shots give them the juice and motivation they need to lock down harder on the defensive end?
Knowing Head Coach Jacque Vaughn, he’d say it’s a little of both, which is a bit of a copout. From my perspective, the Nets’ fate in any particular game seems to start with the defensive end. This is not a team that can ordinarily survive shootouts. Per basketball-reference.com, the league’s mean scoring average for a team is about 114 points scored per game. Since February 10, the Nets are 2-9 when their defense allows a higher total (including the March 10 OT victory in Minnesota that was tied at 114-114 after four quarters) and 7-4 when they are stingier.
And this is with Bridges scoring at an All-Star rate. His 42 points on Friday brought his total to 461 for the month of March, which is the second-most for any month in Nets NBA franchise history behind Durant. Outside of a five-game mini-slump a few weeks ago, Bridges has been the model of consistency, making me regret one of my earlier posts that wondered if the Nets were overburdening hm by putting so much more on his shoulders than he ever experienced in Phoenix.
Bridges also happens to be tasked on a nightly basis with guarding a top opposition scorer. Whenever he’s asked for his analysis related to these big Nets runs, he’ll typically say it starts with getting stops (including controlling the defensive glass).
Maybe it really isn’t that hard to decipher what makes these Nets, like most contending NBA teams, tick.