For the first time in more than four months, the Brooklyn Nets tipped off against an opponent on Wednesday night. In the first of three scrimmages at the NBA Campus in Orlando before they’ll resume regulation games on July 31, the Nets dropped a 99-68 final against the New Orleans Pelicans.
"There’s nothing like playing the game of basketball," said head coach Jacque Vaughn. "I think you’ll see once you get back on the floor, being able to stand up bodies, get hit by bodies, change your direction, have referees, so some things that we have missed. Obviously the timing and the rhythm wasn’t where we wanted to be right now, but mission accomplished. Got some minutes for guys and got some takeaways of what we need to improve on."
If the Nets found the familiar rhythm of the games welcome, the atmosphere was an unprecedented NBA experience for all involved. In an arena with no fans, video boards surrounded three-quarters of the court, team benches were aligned with socially distant seating, and the scorer’s table was behind plexiglass.
"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."
Initial scrimmages are limited to 10-minute quarters - the final two will be full 48-minute games — and the Nets reflected that approach to being cautious about jumping back into action by sticking with a nine-player rotation. Justin Anderson, Jamal Crawford, and Tyler Johnson each had their first practice within the last week and did not play, but Joe Harris was held out of the game as well.
"He’s just in that bucket of we’re figuring out what games we’re going to play guys, what games we’re not going to play guys," said Vaughn. "Caris (LeVert) could play game two, he might not play game two. It really is a day-by-day assessment of looking at the long view. We just thought the cumulative loads for Joe, we’re going to give him a night off just like the rest of those three who are building."
The Nets started with Chris Chiozza at point guard and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot at the 4 spot, Vaughn said the rotation patterns for the game made a point of getting a look at Rodions Kurucs at the 5. Filling minutes behind Jarrett Allen at center is a variable the Nets are experimenting with.
Kurucs had 10 points while shooting 4-of-8, including two 3-pointers, and finished with 10 points.
"Rodi was really good for us," said Temple. "He's going to have to play a lot of 5 for us because of the team that we have and having him at the 5 with his energy, his ability to rebound, set good screens and then shoot the 3 like he is, he's going to be good for us. He's been playing really well in practice at the 5 and tonight he did a good job as well. And then TLC like you said he's been knocking down shots in practice, we expect those shots to fall, they will fall, we just want him to take them in rhythm and continue to shoot them. And like we said we expect him to make those shots. But I really like the way Rodi played tonight and the way he's been playing in practice."
Dzanan Musa led Brooklyn with 11 points, Jarrett Allen had a double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds, and LeVert also scored 10 points.
The Nets got two early 3-pointers from Garrett Temple, and trailed 16-14 after Chris Chiozza connected from deep. But the offense fizzled there, going more than nine minutes without a field goal before a Rodions Kurucs 3-pointer made it 29-18, New Orleans.
Brooklyn was trailing 32-22 when the Pelicans reeled off a 13-2 run to stretch their lead to 20 points, and they went into halftime up 56-35. The Nets finished up shooting 35.2 percent overall and 25 percent from 3-point range, while New Orleans hit 40.6 percent of its 3-pointers.
"Early on we moved the ball really well, we just weren't making a lot of shot," said Temple. "In terms of things we have to get better at, we have to guard the three a lot better. They shot the ball too well for us to win any games if we let that happen. And we have to communicate even more. It's quiet out there so it's obvious when we're not communicating and there's really no excuse not to talk because we can hear everything so we have to communicate a lot more than we did tonight."