(November 6, 2013)
BROOKLYN—Throughout training camp and preseason, the Nets have been asked about the two probable scenarios that could play out this season:
They could come together like the 2008 Boston Celtics did in Kevin Garnett’s first season with the team, and win the NBA title.
Or they could come up short, like the Heat did in 2011, the first season LeBron James and Chris Bosh came to Miami.
“It’s tough to say,’’ Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said recently when asked about the gelling of teams that acquire superstars. “Every team is different.’’
“Because of what we went through three years ago doesn’t make us resident experts on what another team will go through when they’re put together. It’s almost impossible. We all thought it would go easier and more seamless than what it was.’’
After Tuesday night’s 104-88 blowout of the Utah Jazz in Barclays Center, the Nets took a significant step toward making the first scenario seem like the more likely one.
It was just Sunday evening in Orlando that the Nets (2-2) simply didn’t show up for a game against the Magic and got waxed, 108-87.
Then came these alarming words from center Brook Lopez.
“We’re definitely better than this team but we didn’t show it tonight,’’ said Lopez. “Didn’t look like it.’’
He forgot two crucial words: On paper.
On paper, the Nets are vastly more talented and experienced than Orlando. They are vastly more talented and experienced than Utah – on paper.
That guarantees nothing. And the Nets needed to learn that right now, in early November, or Barclays Center might be empty in early June.
That possibility was not lost on the players that are expected to take this team to the next level this season, the players that GM Billy King brought in to add the toughness and experience that was absent on last year’s squad.
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce used the two days between the Orlando no-show and Utah blow out to deliver a message about how teams with championship aspirations are expected to go about their business.
“We’re trying to form something here,” Garnett said. “I think Paul reiterated some of what I was talking about, and it’s just consistency.”
“You can’t play a passionate game against Miami and then go out and play the way we did against Orlando.’’
“I was just letting them know that consistency is the difference between great teams and OK teams. … That was the message.”
Garnett was referring to the Nets’ statement-making 101-100 win over the Miami Heat last Friday, a victory that snapped a 13-game losing streak to the two-time NBA champs.
The Nets played with an intensity and toughness that provided the first glimpse of just how good they can be. But that effort was followed by vanishing act against the Magic.
We have heard one uniformed talking point from the Nets: This is a process.
Yes, this is a process. This is a new team with a new coaching staff and new expectations.
They shouldn’t expect any team – Orlando, Utah, you name it – will simply hold open the door for the Nets and let them walk on through to the Eastern Conference playoffs.
“We had to be ready to match their intensity and we weren’t,’’ Deron Williams said after the Orlando loss. “They just looked like they wanted it more, which is unacceptable.’’
Sometimes the NBA schedule-makers do a team a favor when the computer spits out the opponents.
That was the case Tuesday night.
The Nets have said they want to establish home court dominance.
They took a huge step in that direction when they beat the Heat. Now they’re 2-0 at home after Lopez’s 27-point performance led the dismantling of the Jazz.
It was a game the Nets dominated from start to finish. It was a game in which the better team played like the better team.
Because the process of developing a championship contending team is hard enough without developing bad habits – like failing to match another team’s intensity or following up an emotional win with a lethargic loss.
On paper, the Utah game didn’t look like an important game for the Nets, but it was. They’re all important – which is exactly what championship teams know and the Nets must learn.
That was the message KG and Paul Pierce delivered and the team received.
“We didn’t want to come into this game like we did in the Orlando game, complacently,” said Lopez. “We wanted to come out with an urgency and energy and give ourselves a chance right from the start. We wanted to come in and make an impression.”