Defense lacking early for new-look Nets
Brooklyn looks to improve on 1-2 start as Indiana visits Wednesday
The Nets have yielded the third-most points in the NBA through their first three games this season, resulting in a disappointing 1-2 start to this new era of Brooklyn basketball.
Though it’s a small sample size, the Nets are eager to get more stops and build more chemistry on the back end when they host the Indiana Pacers at Downtown’s Barclays Center tonight.
“We say 70 percent of our emphasis and our work is done on the defensive end. I’ve always thought that’s how you should do it,” Brooklyn Head Coach Kenny Atkinson noted after the Nets suffered a 134-133 loss in Memphis Sunday night on Ja Morant’s three-pointer at the overtime buzzer.
“Any time you lose at the buzzer, it’s a tough loss,” he added. “To sum it up, we could never get stops. I don’t know how many straight possessions they scored, but I never felt like we could get the requisite stops to win this game.”
The Nets have yielded an average of 123.3 points per contest thus far, including 27 per game in the fourth quarter.
They squandered a late lead after overcoming double-digit deficits in OT losses to Minnesota and the Grizzles, and needed Kyrie Irving to bail them out with a late game-winning shot against the arch rival New York Knicks at Barclays last Friday after blowing another fourth-quarter advantage.
Irving, who is averaging an NBA-best 37.7 points in his first full week here in Brooklyn, has not been the problem.
The 27-year-old guard has already shown that he possesses the scoring acumen and overall game to help take the Nets to the next level even if fellow superstar Kevin Durant takes the entire season to mend his torn Achilles.
But that won’t happen unless Brooklyn buckles down on defense and finds a way to get stops in the fourth quarter, something that has haunted them here in the early going.
“It’s communication, but more important, physicality,” Irving said after amassing 37 points, seven rebounds and seven assists against Memphis.
“We’ve just got to bring the fight to the other team,” he added. “They were really comfortable at times. Guys that don’t normally make plays, they were making plays (Sunday) and they had a great comfortable game. You look back at the film, see where you can be position-wise and move on.”
With a couple of days off before hosting the Pacers at Barclays Center tonight, Atkinson was looking to find a better way to get his team to close out games that they should be putting in the win column.
“The offense we build as the season goes. We’ll continue to look at [the defense],” he said.
“Every team deals with the schedule, not just us. We’re going to have to figure it out in the film room, walk-throughs, we’ve got to figure it out on the court and then you need game reps to get on the same page. Our guys need to play together a little more and figure some things out.”
Following a well-chronicled trip to China that turned out to be more about politics than basketball and a pair of crushing overtime losses to inferior opponents, the Nets play three of their next four games here in Brooklyn before departing on a challenging five-game road trip.
It would behoove them to find their defensive groove sooner rather than later if they hope to avoid the type of early season hole they have sunk into the past several seasons.
Last year, though it resulted in a 42-40 final record, and the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs in four years began with the Nets losing 18 of their first 26 games.
That type of start won’t be tolerated after General Manager Sean Marks’ offseason overhaul of this title-starved franchise.
And the best way to get it turned around is to be more consistent on defense in the fourth quarter, according to Irving, who knows a thing or two about what it takes to win games in crunch time.
“I just think that it’s just consistency. Transition from being up five (points) or being up seven and knowing how to manage the game after that,” Irving said.
“It’s just becoming more cerebral on the offensive end and defensive end. Just not doing things that will put us in a position where we’ll have to play catch-up or we don’t have a chance to continue to build on our lead. It takes experience and it takes time.”
Nothing But Net: The Nets have lost eight consecutive road openers, including Sunday’s heartbreaker in Memphis, dating to the 2011 season when they were still based in New Jersey. … After starting the more spindly Jarrett Allen at center in the season’s first two games, Atkinson opted to install veteran free-agent signee DeAndre Jordan Sunday against the Grizzlies. Both big men contributed to the effort, combining for 20 points on eight-of-nine shooting with 25 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots by Allen, who logged 27 minutes to Jordan’s 23. … After hosting the Pacers here tonight, the Nets will take on the Houston Rockets at Barclays Center on Friday night.
In local college sports news, the St. Francis Brooklyn men’s soccer squad suffered a serious blow to its playoff chances with Saturday night’s 4-3 overtime loss at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J.
Winners of three straight and holders of the coveted fourth and final spot in the Northeast Conference postseason race entering the contest, the Terriers (7-5-1, 3-4-0 NEC) slipped back into sixth place after Diego Arribas delivered the golden goal in the 97th minute for FDU (6-6-2, 2-2-2).
SFC appeared poised for a season high-tying third consecutive win before Daniel Lasarte scored in the 90th minute to force the extra session.
Nicolas Molina, Rahmi Shawki and Edoardo Belfanti scored goals for the Terriers, who remain three points behind fourth-place Bryant with two games remaining in the regular season.
SFC freshman goaltending sensation Callum James yielded a career-high four goals after posting back-to-back shutouts in his previous two starts to earn NEC Rookie of the Week honors for the second time this year.
The Terriers will be back in action Saturday against Sacred Heart at the Poly Prep Country Day School in Bay Ridge before wrapping up the campaign Nov. 10 at LIU in Brookville, New York.
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