Brooklyn Nets Ready for Refresh Before Hitting the Road
Nets coming off season-high 135 points in Monday's win over New Orleans
If you want to throw up some semi-arbitrary signposts to mark off blocks in the season for the Brooklyn Nets, you can start with the end of their season-opening stretch of five home dates in their first seven games. Following Monday night’s 135-125 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, the Nets have a rare stretch of three straight days without a game before they tip off their five-game road trip in Portland on Friday night.
“I’m just glad we’ll have two or three practice days,” said head coach Kenny Atkinson. “Two days really, two practice days to kind of get in training camp mode. Don’t tell the players that, but just run through our offense, run through all our plays, understand what we’re doing and we definitely have some work to do.”
The Nets hit this marker with a 3-4 record, with two of the losses coming in overtime. The Pelicans game marked the end of a three-games-in-four-days block that included home wins against Houston and New Orleans and a road loss in Detroit on the second night of a back-to-back.
“Just a lot of film watching, a lot of communicating,” said Kyrie Irving of the next few days. “Just watching a lot of our possessions where we could’ve been better down the stretch and throughout the game and the games that we’ve played. It’s really important that we utilize this time before we go on this 10-day road trip, five teams that are pretty good in our league. A great test to go on the road trip for that long – just great team building and preparation before we go on the trip.”
Monday night’s win featured some consistent themes from the first two weeks of the season. There was a 39-point scoring outburst from Irving, who is averaging 31.7 points per game in his first seven games as a Net. Brooklyn is fifth in the league in offensive rating (108.4) and second in scoring (121.0) and put up a season-high 135 points. But the Nets also surrendered 48 points in the third quarter, allowing the Pelicans to slice a 20-point lead down to two late in the fourth quarter. They’re currently 17th in the league in defensive rating (111.6).
“We just need to clean up a lot of stuff defensively,” said Joe Harris. “It’s sort of been our woes here to start the season. Whether it’s a lack of communication, effort, whatever it might be, it’s just a lot of stuff that we need to clean up, get on the same page with. We need to limit the fouls; we’ve been putting teams on the line a lot. And then we’ve got to clean up taking care of the ball. Simple stuff that a lot of it is in our control, but a lot of that will be really valuable to have practice days, teachable days.”
ASSISTS VS. TURNOVERS
Against the New Orleans Pelicans on Monday night, the Nets posted season-high 32 assists, but also another 23 turnovers. They’re 29th in the league with 19.9 turnovers per game.
“Over the course of the game you’re probably going to have 10 turnovers or so just because you’re playing hard, you’re competing, that’s the way the game goes,” said Joe Harris. “But it’s the other 10 that you have to limit. You can’t have the careless ones, the ones where guys are cutting backdoor and you throw it, or you try the hail mary pass. There’s a level of simplicity to the game that we have to approach.”
“We’re gonna look at it,” said Kenny Atkinson. “We’re gonna talk about it. We’re gonna get our spacing right. My gut is it’s happening a lot in scramble situations. You run a play, two-down or whatever it is and you run it and they take it away and it’s that next phase. How do you play when they take your initial action away or that initial play. It’s not really on initial play. I do think sometimes we’re playing too fast. We need to do a better job of changing speeds a little better. I think we’re rushing into a lot of mistakes.”
Brooklyn is third in the league in pace (107.31) and has played at a 111.17 pace in its three wins and 104.55 pace in its four losses, though three of the four losses were narrow enough to have gone either way.
Against the Pelicans on Monday night, the Nets played to a 112.50 pace and posted a 120.5 offensive rating. While they’re ninth in the league in assists per game (24.4), they’re 22nd in assist percentage (56.3). But against New Orleans, that assist percentage was 65.3.
“The ball moved a lot better today than it probably had the previous games,” said Harris. “I think we just did a good job getting into the paint and then making the right decisions. Guys were doing a good job getting in, everybody was collapsing, and the ball was just spraying out.”
Irving has 29 assists total in the last three games, 10 each against Houston and Detroit followed by nine against New Orleans, and is now averaging 7.7 assists per game. Atkinson has consistently praised Irving’s decision-making and distribution throughout the season’s first two weeks.
With the Nets up four and just over three minutes remaining Monday night, Irving drew in a collapsing defense on a drive, then kicked out from the lane to Caris LeVert for an open 3-pointer. With just under a minute to go, the double-team that Irving drew on a high screen by Harris led to an open 3-pointer by Harris that gave the Nets an eight-point lead.
“Kyrie was fantastic at the end,” said Atkinson. “This is gonna happen; they just starting doubling him. And I thought he got rid of it, threw it to Joe, penetrated, four guys around him, fired a dart out and he’s really doing a great job of making the right play when there’s tremendous pressure on him.”
The Nets have been among the NBA’s top rebounding teams over the first two weeks, led by the center pairing of DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen, who have been switching up spots in the starting lineup. But Jordan left Monday’s game against New Orleans with a sprained left ankle in the fourth quarter and did not return.
“You never want to see anybody get hurt ... but if you’ve ever played basketball before you’ve probably sprained your ankle so that stuff happens," said Joe Harris. "It’s part of the game. You hope that it’s not as bad as it appears, but we’re pretty fortunate to have a great performance staff and as long as it’s just a sprain he’ll probably be back before you know it.”
Allen ended up posting a season-high 18 points, shooting 7-for-8, and grabbing 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season. Through seven games, Allen is averaging 9.7 rebounds and 9.1 points, shooting 63.4 percent.
“I know at the beginning of the season I wasn't playing my best,” said Allen. “Everyone kept believing in me everybody said that it's going to come to me and now I'm starting to play better.”
KYRIE’S FAST START
With his 39 points against New Orleans on Monday, Kyrie Irving posted his third 30-point game as a Net, and topped 20 points for the seventh straight game to start the season.
“He just kind of goes about his business,” said Joe Harris. “You look up and he’s got 30, but he’s just an efficient player, and aggressive player throughout the course of the game and that’s what we need from him.”
Irving’s 222 points through the first seven games are the most ever by a Net in such a season-opening stretch.
“I’m happy to go down as another Irving in Nets history,” said Irving, with a nod to Nets legend Julius Erving. “That’s a great thing. I’m going to continue to say it, but it’s a dream come true since I was in the fourth grade, left an NBA Finals game, went home and wrote it on sheet rock. Now to be going in Nets history, I’m always appreciate of different records you break, but obviously doing it at home it’s just a different feeling. But obviously I know the important goals ahead and that’s something that goes in the accomplishment group that I’m very grateful for.”
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