SALT LAKE CITY — The 13-game closing stretch of the 2018-19 season that began for the Brooklyn Nets with Wednesday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder is filled with some of the NBA's top defensive teams.
The Thunder are one of them, ranked third in the league in defensive rating. It showed up down the stretch, when OKC limited Brooklyn to 18 points on 28.6 percent shooting in the fourth quarter. The Nets were outscored by 10 points in the fourth and lost 108-96.
"It's a good lesson for this road trip, being able to handle the physicality when a team really turns it up like that," said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. "It's on both sides of the ball. It's taking care of the ball offensively and taking good shots. You've got to run your cuts a little better, you've got to screen a little better, everything's got to be a little more perfect."
Saturday's opponent, the Utah Jazz, is dead even with the Thunder with the same defensive rating of 105.6. The rest of the Western Conference portion of the road trip doesn't present as many high-ranking defensive teams, but the Nets (36-34) still have top-10 defensive teams Milwaukee, Indiana, Boston, Toronto and Philly on the schedule over their final seven games. It's a challenge for a team that is 29th in the NBA in offensive rating (105.2) since the All-Star break.
"We have not been good offensively since the All-Star break," said Atkinson. "So we're going to have to look at it. I think our decision-making's got to be a little quicker. I think we're passing up shots quite honestly. Allen Crabbe, I would love for him to shoot nine threes tonight. I think to beat a team like this you've got to let it go when it's open. I thought they had us on our heels a little bit where we were just a little slow on our decision making. Against (Oklahoma City), if you don't have quick decision making they put you in a bind."
Using the All-Star break as a starting point, it's actually the Nets that have the NBA's best defensive rating, 103.8. That's helped them play to a 6-5 record during that stretch. For the full season, Brooklyn is 13th in the league in defensive rating (108.9) and 17th in offensive rating (108.8). That combination has them right in the middle of the NBA pack, No. 15 in net rating (-0.1).
"I don’t subscribe to the only defense wins championships," said Atkinson. "You have to be good on both sides of the ball. I’ve always believed that. You need a good balance. So, happy we’re playing good defense. I’d like to see more balance. Our goal is to be in the top echelon in offensive efficiency and defensive efficiency."
ALLEN CRABBE OUT FOR WEEKEND
Guard Allen Crabbe will miss both Saturday night's game against Utah and Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Clippers after experiencing knee soreness. Crabbe has started Brooklyn's last five games. He previously missed 26 games over two months with soreness in the same knee, returning in early February.
"It wasn’t like a specific movement, it wasn’t a specific play," said Crabbe. "I guess three minutes left in the OKC game, that’s when I started feeling it. It flared up again. I already had some swelling in the knee. So we just drained it again, just did the little procedure. So go from there, really. It’s basically like the last couple things that we’ve done when I had the little pain in my knee. So, figure it out. Day-to-day, basically really.”
While the Nets will miss Crabbe, Kenny Atkinson said that DeMarre Carroll, Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham were all probable to play against Utah on Saturday after missing time.
DINWIDDIE KEEPS ROLLING
Spencer Dinwiddie led the Nets with 25 points in Oklahoma City, extending a stretch in which the Nets guard is now averaging 22.2 points over Brooklyn's last five games while shooting 50.7 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from 3-point range, plus 4.2 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game.
D'Angelo Russell is third in the NBA in assist percentage (38.5) behind just Russell Westbrook (43.1) and James Harden (39.5). Assist percentage is the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted on while on the court. Russell is 12th in the league with 6.8 assists per game, but he's averaging 7.6 over 32 games since Jan. 1.
ABOUT THE JAZZ
The Jazz (39-29) are battling for playoff position in the west, vying with the Spurs and Clippers for the sixth seed. They've turned things around from a 9-12 start and gone 30-17 since visiting the Nets in late November. Utah is tied for third in the league in defensive rating (105.6). Center Rudy Gobert is first in the NBA in field goal percentage (65.1), fourth in rebounds (12.9), and fourth in blocks (2.3). Donovan Mitchell leads the Jazz with 23.6 points per game and averages 4.1 assists and 4.1 rebounds.