Back from China, Nets prep for preseason finale
Host defending NBA champion Raptors at Barclays Center Friday
Amid all the controversy that swirled around their two-game exhibition series in China last week, the Brooklyn Nets found some solace in one another, something they hope will serve them well as the regular season approaches.
“It’s more valuable than training camp, the sense because of the bonding, because of being in a foreign country, I think it becomes — in the long run — more valuable,” said Nets Head Coach Kenny Atkinson after his team began practicing again at the HSS Training Center in Sunset Park on Wednesday.
“The travel obviously brings you closer together, it was good in that sense.”
While the Nets won both of their preseason contests against LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers, posting a 114-111 victory in Shanghai last Thursday before rolling to a 91-77 rout Saturday in Shenzhen, the trip turned out to be much more about international upheaval than basketball.
From Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey’s tweet in support of the Hong Kong protests to the Chinese government canceling NBA events and blocking players’ and Commissioner Adam Silver’s media availability, the China series was a maelstrom of madness from the outside looking in.
But for the Nets, who will close out their preseason schedule tonight at the Barclays Center against the defending NBA champion Toronto Raptors, it was still about forging a bond for the long season ahead and bringing their brand of basketball to the world’s biggest international market.
“To be honest, I know there was a lot of stuff going on but the atmosphere was really very similar to what it was during the World Cup,” said Brooklyn sharpshooter Joe Harris, who noted that both games were sold out and virtually free of the political mayhem that defined most of the week
“The fans were extremely passionate, they love the game,” he added. “They still sold out both games. Take out what was actually going on, it really felt exactly the same.”
The only thing that was far different than any other preseason or regular-season game for the Nets was that they weren’t able to go their separate ways after the final buzzer.
“You’re forced to hang out together,” Harris revealed. “A lot of team events, team dinners. [Nets owner and Taiwan native] Joe Tsai had a lot of different stuff planned. It was a lot of time we spent together off the court.”
Jet-lagged from the long flight back and still adjusting to the time difference upon arriving back in Downtown Brooklyn, the Nets took Monday off and went light on Tuesday before getting back to the business of preparing for Toronto on Wednesday.
Atkinson and Brooklyn General Manager Sean Marks kept a close eye on their players as the trip, controversy aside, doubtlessly took a toll on the team, which is hoping to build off last year’s breakthrough 42-win, playoff campaign.
“When we came back, there was special protocol,” said Atkinson. “It wasn’t like we were coming back from Philly or something. We had a plan in place, put together by our performance team obviously, and we adhere to it.
“I think we knew this when we first added the trip that was going to be important, how we treated this week. But I can even see today, I can see signs of fatigue. Normal kind of decision-making, guy stepping out of bounds, I just felt it. I guess that’s normal.”
Armed with an offseason haul that is the envy of the league, including superstars Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, the Nets are aiming at grabbing the organization’s first-ever NBA title this season.
But first, they must get their collective sleep schedules back on track and put China in the rear-view mirror despite the seemingly never-ending media coverage surrounding the event and all it has wrought.
“It’s tough to block everything out,” Nets guard Caris LeVert admitted. “But at the end of the day we’re human and we see those things. We just try to stick together as much as we could and focus our sights on the game.”
Following Friday’s preseason contest against the Raptors, the Nets will remain in Brooklyn to continue practicing for next Wednesday’s home opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Hopefully by then, China will be a distant memory for these championship-hungry Nets.
“We’re just focused on the season now,” LeVert added. “That’s kind of behind us. We’re back here, our first regular-season game is next week.”
Nothing But Net: LeVert scored a team-high 22 points in only 23 minutes during the China Series finale in Shenzhen on Saturday. Taurean Prince finished with 14 points, but was Brooklyn’s best player by far during the two-game series, nailing 11-of-13 3-pointers and finishing with 32 points overall. “He shot great,” Harris said of Prince, who was acquired from Atlanta this summer in the deal that sent Allen Crabbe to the Hawks. “I think anytime that you can have another shooter on the floor that helps create space especially with a lot of the facilitators and ball-handlers that we have just makes the game a lot easier for everyone.” … Still protecting a facial fracture that he suffered here in Brooklyn ahead of the Nets’ China trip and re-aggravated in Shanghai, Irving will likely play against the Raptors on Friday night. “The biggest thing with him is you just want him to be healthy,” said Harris. “You don’t ever wanna force guys back or make them feel like they’re obligated to come back too soon. So whenever he feels right, feels good and is ready to play, that’s how we want him. Everybody’s excited not only to see him play but also to play with him.”
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