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Brooklyn Nets in Orlando: Week 3 Notebook

Catching up with the Nets on the way to the NBA restart

With the Brooklyn Nets getting ready to tip off their resumption of play on the NBA Campus in Orlando on Friday against the Orlando Magic, we’ll sign off on the “preseason” with one more weekly notebook from their final week of preparation.

THE COURT

The Nets got their first taste of the playing environment in Orlando with their initial scrimmage against the New Orleans Pelicans on July 22. The court features “BLACK LIVES MATTER” printed on the hardwood in front of the scorer’s table, with three-quarters of the court backgrounded by video boards.

“I think you can see a very collective effort from the league and the players association and the input that was taken from organizations,” said Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn. “Message is being sent in the correct way and also putting guys in position to showcase talents in a unique environment that I think is extremely innovative and pretty cool to take part in.”

Playing in this fanless environment with the surrounding video screens is an adjustment.

“It was weird,” said Garrett Temple. “It felt kind of like a 2K atmosphere, like you were just put into a video game. That’s how bright, that’s how the lights were. You felt different. Kind of a Summer League feel, maybe because it was a preseason game or exhibition game as well, but it was very different. I’m glad we’ve got three games to get used to it, but the one positive that you can take away from it, is coaches and players can really talk to the guys that are on the court without fan interaction, without having to yell too loud. We’re going to be able to communicate to people on the court what we need to see happen.”

JAMAL CRAWFORD ALWAYS SHARP

The Nets have held Jamal Crawford out of the first three scrimmages. Working the 40-year-old up to playing significant game minutes may take some time, but there’s no doubt Crawford remains a player that can step on the court and be an offensive threat.

“It’s pretty impressive to see him,” said Vaughn. “I think a clip went viral of he and Rodi just kind of messing around at practice. He’s a guy that can make shots. I’ve seen a few guys like that over the years just be able to at any age shoot the basketball. So, that’s a skill that is current and a skill that we need.”

COMMUNICATION IS KEY

The Nets have a blended group taking the court in Orlando, so getting everybody on the same page is paramount. There are just seven players remaining from Brooklyn’s 15-player opening night roster back in October. It’s not all entirely new faces. Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot was a two-way player back then who has been elevated to a full roster spot. Lance Thomas was in training camp with Brooklyn last fall. Justin Anderson had a 10-day contract with Brooklyn in January, then joined the Long Island Nets in the G League.

But with the short run-up to the restart, they are going to have to be flexible enough to figure things out on the fly, and the experience of newcomers like Thomas, Jamal Crawford, and Tyler Johnsonn is key.

“Actually because a lot of the guys we brought in our veterans, they know the importance of communicating,” said Garrett Temple. “It’s just about the guys that are getting more minutes now than they had before understanding how important it is to talk when we’re out there on the court. The veteran guys — Jamal, Tyler, Lance, guys know the importance of talking, so we’re the ones impressing on the younger guys like a (Dzanan) Musa, Jeremiah (Martin) and Chris (Chiozza) — Cheese — to make sure we communicate to make sure everybody’s on the same page on the floor.”

IN THE SHADOW OF A PANDEMIC

While the Nets are back at basketball, and the scrimmages sessions tipped off last Wednesday with no NBA players having tested positive on campus for the previous nine days, there’s a reason the Nets are playing in a sequestered environment. You can see it with the plexiglass surrounding the scorer’s table or the spaced out, socially distanced team benches.

“I think overall, health is still a priority,” said Jacque Vaughn. “We see the effect it has had on our country and where we are, so I think it’s our responsibility to really not give into relaxing any of the standards put into place. The protocols have been established for a reason, extreme amount of research has gone into it and I think it’s on us to hold our end of the responsibility and hold those protocols into place.”

Adjusting to the NBA Campus is the latest step for the Nets, who were in the midst of a four-game California road trip when the season was suspended back in March. That trip included a strong contingent of family members, many of whom remained in Los Angeles while the Nets headed to San Francisco expecting to play the Warriors, with a return to LA to face the Clippers after that.

With the NBA on hold, players received exercise equipment and training regimens, while staffers throughout the organization received care packages.

“It was a great test of our resolve as an organization,” said Vaughn. “Great test of our communication as an organization. The leadership during that time, when you're really concerned about the welfare of the families that were in New York at the time. Whether we had players that were in market or out of market really concerning to the organization in making sure guys were taken care of as far as supplies and the kids were taken care of. I think you think empathetically so you're out really thinking of others. That approach made it really conducive for us to take care of our players and everyone else that continues to be affected by what's going on.”

THE FUN STUFF

Tuesday was just Brooklyn’s third day without practice or a scrimmage game since they got out of their Orlando quarantine on July 9. The team continues to find different ways to manage downtime on the NBA Campus.

“We have a mini-golf, one of those 10-foot long greens, inside of our meal room,” said Jarrett Allen. “We have ping pong. Obviously you’ve heard about all the corn hole. Really, they’re just trying to keep us entertained without going over the top too much.”

CARIS LEVERT OFF THE BALL

Caris LeVert has plenty of experience in a point guard role, and his on-the-ball skills as both a scorer and playmaker are what have generated high-end performances in times like last season’s playoffs of his strong run up to the season’s suspension in March.

But the Nets need scoring from him above all right now, so with Spencer Dinwiddie and Kyrie Irving out for the NBA restart, Jacque Vaughn has kept LeVert in a 2-guard role with Chris Chiozza starting at the point in all three scrimmages.

“We'll stay open in how much he handles the basketball and how much he's off the ball,” said Vaughn after Brooklyn’s first scrimmage against New Orleans. “We've started Chris with him so far and that could easily change, especially as the game gets down to the wire. Sometimes you put your best group out there no matter what the size is. So overall, we'll continue to let his game grow. I'll continue to communicate with him, whether he wants the ball or he's off the ball. As you saw that first game, he'll have plenty of opportunities to be on it and off it.”

JACQUE VAUGHN AS HEAD COACH

Jacque Vaughn has been navigating an unprecedented transition, taking over as Brooklyn’s head coach two games before the NBA season was suspended in March. With that, the first priority came in managing through the hiatus, which meant doing it from a distance.

“He hasn’t been different really,” said Jarrett Allen. “He’s still who he is. He still has that great relationship with all the players. He still has that player mentality in him from Kansas, he still is JV; he’s that same coach, he just took that step up in leadership.”

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