The five-game road trip that begins for the Brooklyn Nets Friday night in Portland includes three 50-win teams from a year ago — one of them a Western Conference finalist — plus one of the more impressive early-season surprise stories of the 2019-20 season.
A tough road, but one the Nets say they’re ready for after their 3-4 start.
“It’s almost like a perfect moment for this road trip for us,” said head coach Kenny Atkinson. “Team bonding, team chemistry. We have a little adversity with DeAndre (Jordan) out. You have to take everything. It’s everything. Sometimes these types of trips can galvanize a team. I think it’s our longest road trip of the year. We’ve kinda used these as a real team chemistry. We’ll be together a lot. We’ll be breaking bread a lot. We’ll be having coffee together and team meetings. There’s nothing like that.”
There is a steady cadence to the trip, with the Nets playing every other day. The stop in Portland is followed by Phoenix, Utah, Denver and Chicago. Brooklyn’s next home game is Monday, Nov. 18 against Indiana.
Until then, they’ll be out of their homes and away from HSS Training Center. A long road trip changes the flow and the nature of routine without the familiar resources of home
“It’s one on ones,” said Atkinson about interaction with players on the road. “That’s part of the head coaches’ job; you’re pulling guys aside. It might be after shootaround or a meeting. You say, ‘hey, hang out, I want to watch some film with you.’ That’s great too. You don’t feel like you’re pulling them from their families, so you feel good about that. Your film sessions could be a little longer. And then yeah, you could sit down and have a meal with them after a game, win or lose. That builds a real closeness. I’m looking forward to the trip.”
“Winning obviously is the top priority but at the end of the day, Kenny says it a lot, it’s about the process,” said Joe Harris. “Even if you lose games, if your process is right and you’re playing the right way, stuff is going to turn into your favor in the long run. That’s sort of what it’s all about. We’re trying to get to a point where we’re playing clean games. We need to have a full 48-minute consistent game.”
Kenny Atkinson said center DeAndre Jordan is “questionable but hopeful” for Friday night’s game in Portland after suffering a sprained ankle Monday against New Orleans. So if questionable turns into “out,” how do the Nets fill Jordan’s 21 minutes at center, aside from maybe some extra time for Jarrett Allen, who’s been averaging 27.1 minutes per game?
One option is to rely on Brooklyn’s wing depth and go small with 6-foot-7 Taurean Prince at the 5. It’s the type of alignment Atkinson would occasionally turn to last season with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as the small-ball center. The big difference is that Prince has shooting range Hollis-Jefferson lacked, and his presence at the 5 give the Nets the potential to have five 3-point threats on the floor.
“Possible,” said Atkinson. “We have to look at it. We did some today. That’s in the realm. That’s very possible. Especially — yeah, I’ll leave it at that.”
Other options include two-way player Henry Ellenson and rookie Nic Claxton.
“Nic is just naturally a gifted athlete,” said Harris. “He’s got a good feel for the game, he knows how to play. I think he understands the situation that he’s in and what his role is going to be. Obviously, it’s going to be a test for him too, but we’re going to need him to step up, be locked in and be ready to play.”
The 31st overall pick in June’s draft, Claxton has yet to see action over Brooklyn’s first seven games, but made a solid impression on Atkinson throughout training camp and was impressive during preseason opportunities.
“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot stronger and just mentally, just coming here every day and just learning, learning our system, what we want to do here,” said Claxton. “And I feel like I’ve made huge, huge strides in that area as far as the mental aspect.”
The Nets committed 23 turnovers against New Orleans on Monday, their second-highest total of the season, and they’re last in the league in turnover rate with 19.9 per game. With a rare stretch of three days between games and two practice sessions, it was a focus on the eve of the road trip departure.
“Trying to simulate the pressure of taking away actions and fouling, just put’ em under extreme pressure to try and do a better job,” said Atkinson. “Now there’s certain things that — we lead the league in travels. I’m not sure that’s fundamentals. I think the NBA’s calling travels at a higher rate. They are, for a fact, and they always do. We have to adjust to that. We have to understand that there’s more scrutiny there. Sixteen travels, that’s a lot.”
“We’ve just talked about being more sound with the ball,” said Harris. “We put ourselves in some different situations here in practice where we did some different drills and live-game situations where teams are going to play overly aggressively defensively. And you’ve just got to be more locked in, more sound with the ball and focus on taking care of it.”
ABOUT THE BLAZERS
The Blazers will be on the second half of a back-to-back when they host the Nets on Friday after playing the Clippers in Los Angeles on Thursday night and bringing a 3-4 record into that game. With significant turnover in the frontcourt from last season and still awaiting the return of injured center Jusuf Nurkic, the backcourt pair that has been the heart of Portland’s run of six straight playoff appearances continues to carry the load.
While C.J. McCollum is averaging 20.7 points and 36.6 minutes per game, Damian Lillard is playing 37.7 minutes per game and scoring at a career-high rate of 31.1 points per game, plus 7.3 assists and 5.0 rebounds per game while shooting 40.3 percent from 3-point range.
“A lot of teams have one head of the snake,” said Kenny Atkinson. “They have two. That makes it harder to guard. (Head coach) Terry (Stotts) does a great job. They have a system that’s in place. They’re top 10 in offensive efficiency. We have a good game plan. I feel good about the game plan. Those guys, we have to pay a lot of attention to them. Then you can’t have Rodney Hood, Anthony Tolliver, those guys go off for 25 points. It’s contain those guys, but also don’t let those other guys get off.”