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Brooklyn Nets Blitz Through West Coast Road Trip

Nets close in on first place in East after winning six straight

Ten days ago, the Brooklyn Nets flew west one game removed what head coach Steve Nash called a low point of the season, a loss to the Detroit Pistons that was Brooklyn’s third straight.

They’re back home and ready to tip off a three-game home stretch carrying the NBA’s longest active winning streak — six games — after sweeping a five-game West Coast trip that made for the longest single road trip without a loss in franchise history.

“I think we showed toughness, we showed mental toughness and belief and connectivity by continuing on this trip, no matter who was available or what the situation was; down 24 in Phoenix, (gave up) the lead tonight and are tied late,” said Nash. “Overall, just like that toughness that is a non-negotiable if you want to be a great team. And some of that toughness and resolve has to be built. It's not just something you turn on. So I think that's what's really positive, is just showing willingness to win in different ways and willingness to lock in and win games that look different on a night-to-night basis, and that's important.”

The Nets closed out the trip with wins over three of the top four teams in the Western Conference, the Suns, Lakers, and Clippers. They’re now 5-0 against the top four teams in the West and 8-0 against the eight teams currently in playoff position in the conference.

Over their six-game winning streak, the Nets have an offensive rating of 122.8 — five points per 100 possessions higher than their rate of 117.8 for the full season, which leads the league — and a net rating of 9.3. They’ve shot 50.1 percent overall, 40.5 percent from 3-point range, and posted an effective field goal percentage of 61.4. This has come largely without Kevin Durant, who returned from a health and safety protocol absence for the first game of the road trip, but missed the last four with a hamstring strain.

It began with a 104-94 win over the Indiana Pacers at Barclays Center on Feb. 10. But in some ways, it started the night before when the Nets dropped a road game in Detroit to the Pistons, who have the worst record in the Eastern Conference.

“Well I think I went on quote by saying that we looked very average, so I think everybody kind of took that personally, including myself, and we just used that as motivation and guys came out in that Indiana game and played with effort, and I feel like we've continued to do so since then to be able to go out there and do what we say we want to do,” said Kyrie Irving. “We don't want to talk a good game and say we're collectively together and united, and we're not — you could see it on the floor, we weren't connected at all. Especially going against sub-500 teams that we have a losing record to, and that was embarrassing. So we just want to continue to demand that standard of excellence.

“I know I say it’s just words, but you guys don't get a chance to be in our locker room all the time, but the preparation is where it starts: walkthroughs, being able to do the little things, remember the details to throw out there and just play your game with a structure in mind. We need structure. NBA players, entertainers, anybody out there, we need structure to be able to succeed at the highest level, and that's why you see the best teams have coaches that coach the (heck) out of the players, and guys that go out there and do it.”

Brooklyn opened up the trip with offensive showcases that put a spotlight on the growing range of the team’s offense: 134 points in Golden State with all five starters scoring at least 15 points, and 136 points in Sacramento with seven players scoring in double figures.

They came from 24 points down in Phoenix, where the rising Suns had just won six straight and nine of 10 with wins over Eastern Conference contenders Philadelphia and Milwaukee, closing it out with an offensive rush and a defensive stand — a 12-0 run to finish the game.

Then they hit LA and beat the Lakers by 11 before holding off the Clippers. Over their six-game streak, the Nets improved their defensive efficiency by 5.9 points per 100 possessions compared to their previous 14 games.

In the big picture, the three-game slide that culminated in the Detroit loss could be chalked up as a blip — overall the Nets are 15-6 since Jan. 12 and they’re now a half-game out of first place in the Eastern Conference with a 20-12 record. But it was a reminder that things can easily go sideways without the right focus.

“We had a lot of frustrating losses,” said James Harden. “We don’t want that to haunt us at the end of the season. So we decided to as a team collectively pick it up, each individual. Once you pick your effort up and you pick your mindset up in a sense of we’re going to go out there and play well and play hard for my teammates, good things start to happen for you individually. Obviously, the schemes and the playcalls offensively, defensively, we’ll continue to watch film, continue to get better, but individually as a basketball player, you have to have the mindset, especially with your role, being the best you can be in your role, and that’s going to be better for our team. From top to bottom, guys have bought into that and we’re just doing it collectively and each individual knows each other’s role and what they have to do to be exceptional in their role, so that’s a huge part of our success.”

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