Brooklyn Nets Rip Through Road Trip with 5-1 Record
Nets return home tied for first in East after six-game trip
Less than a month into the 2021-22 NBA season, the Brooklyn Nets have wrapped up the longest road trip they’ll have this year. They’ve returned to Brooklyn after a six-game trek, having won five of those games and risen into a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference with a 10-4 record. This was the 67th road trip of five or more games in Nets history, and the five wins matched a franchise record.
“We’re coming together, and it feels good,” said James Harden. “It feels more fluid. It feels like it should. Honestly, we’ve got a long ways to go and we’re still building on it, but it’s just a confidence and kind of knowing each other a little bit more that is helping us a lot. But I think both ends of the ball we’ve experienced a little adversity, and then we’ve experienced being away from home and having to fight through and grind out different games and go on different runs and teams coming back against us and know how to get a good shot and get three stops in a row and win games. There have been a lot of things we’ve had to go through for this road trip. So it was a good test for us.”
Dating back to the start of the trip on Nov. 5, the Nets are fifth in the NBA in net rating (9.9), sixth in offensive rating (112.6) and seventh in defensive rating (102.7). They’re also first in 3-point percentage (42.9), first in effective field goal percentage (56.9), sixth in field goal percentage (47.8), and fourth in both points per game (111.7) and assists (26.7).
The Nets were also in the top 10 in opponent field goal percentage and effective field goal percentage for the duration of the trip, and Patty Mills started on that side of the ball in evaluating the team’s success.
“I think the consistent efforts on the defensive end, number one,” said Mills. “I think prior to the road trip we have shown the potential and I think we've been able to string a few more minutes together on playing solid D. Obviously we're not where we would like to be right now, but we're showing improvements each and every game and I think that's important this time in the season. On the offensive end, I think we're starting to get a feel as games go on and we get more game reps, what everyone's like. We keep talking that this is a new team and everyone finding their spot so I think just being able to ping it around and shoot open shots is the ideal way.”
The Nets had won three straight games before hitting the road, so they’ve now won eight of nine after a 2-3 start. The road trip offered a growing blueprint for what they want to accomplish and how they want to play going forward.
“We have to play together at both ends,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “We have to be an underdog defensively every night. Be very diligent with our schemes and game plan and connectivity down there and then offensively trying to form an identity by playing fast, playing early, getting to the second side when they take away our first action. Still got a long way to go at both ends of the floor but I think we’re showing signs of improvement and moving in the right direction. I think the guys feel positive about how they’re playing and the direction they’re going in, so we’ve got to just keep building.”
JAMES HARDEN FINDING FORM
After averaging nearly 10 assists per game during Brooklyn’s six-game trip, James Harden is up to 9.3 assists per game for the season, second in the league behind only Chris Paul. Harden has had double-digit assists in three straight games and six of the last eight. He had double-doubles in five of Brooklyn’s six games on the trip, including two triple-doubles. He also averaged 8.3 rebounds per game during the road trip.
“I’m getting there,” said Harden after Brooklyn won in New Orleans. “It wasn’t going to take long. I mean, this is the highest (level) in the sport is the NBA, the most talented players in this world. So it’s not going to be easy for me to just come out there and do what I do. It takes a lot of hard work to be playing at a point to which you guys have seen me play at. When I’m not scoring 30 points, when I’m averaging 18-some points, it’s like, ‘What’s wrong with James?’ It’s pretty solid still. I’ve been playing so well and so extremely at another level to where you guys set standards for me, and I set standards for myself as well. For me, I just continue to work. I feel a lot better, and the work don’t stop.”
Harden opened up the trip with a triple-double in Detroit, followed up with 28 points in Toronto, had another triple-double in Orlando, then exploded for a season-high 39 points with 12 assists in New Orleans.
“He was aggressive all night,” said Kevin Durant in New Orleans. “He was getting downhill getting to the free throw line, 11-for-15, highly, highly efficient. Twelve assists, he just, I mean, he looked incredible. So we need everyone to build off this offensively, defensively we can make some adjustments but I also thought we got stops when we needed to. But James did a great job tonight of just controlling the game.”
After playing sparingly through Brooklyn’s first three games, DeAndre’ Bembry moved into the rotation and continued to solidify his role through Brooklyn’s 10-day trip. The 6-foot-5 wing has been one of the Nets’ core second unit pieces, averaging 17.2 minutes per game since moving into the rotation against Washington on Oct. 25.
Defense has been the sixth-year pro’s calling card, and he’s contributed to Brooklyn’s strong showing on that end to start the season. The Nets are seventh in defensive rating (103.5), fourth in opponent field goal percentage (42.6), and second in opponent effective field goal percentage (48.4).
“We kind of knew coming in that was one of the things we needed to work on,” said Bembry. “That and also rebounding, because people tell us that we're kind of small. So collectively, it's a group thing for us. We're all trying to be in the right spots, talk to each other. And that's what the veteran leadership we have, being in the right spot at the right time and just knowing where to be. So collectively, we've been finding ways on how to lock in and key in on guarding certain teams in certain ways. But it's been working for us.”
On the offensive end, Bembry has made 7-of-10 3-pointers — he made 3-of-3 while scoring 11 points against Orlando — but primarily found offense working off the ball as an aggressive cutter. He’s shooting 56.1 percent overall, with 29 of his 31 2-point attempts coming at the rim.
“I think timing, recognition, reading the game, it's a way for him to create space, to cause issues and confusion,” said Nash, “not just to benefit from the cut himself but to benefit his teammates.”
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