Nets blow opener of four-game trip in D.C.
Coach Atkinson ‘dumbfounded’ by lack of focus in first half
The Brooklyn Nets said all the right things prior to the opener of their four-game road trip Wednesday night in Washington, D.C.
They pointed to the importance of each game, if not each possession, as they try to hold on to one of the coveted Eastern Conference playoff spots down the stretch.
But saying is one thing and doing is quite another.
Following a porous first half in which they committed 11 turnovers and shot less than 30 percent from the field, the Nets nearly came all the way back to beat the Washington Wizards, only to suffer a gut-wrenching 110-106 loss in front of 15,021 fans at Capital One Arena.
“I’m dumbfounded by how we weren’t mentally into the game,” Atkinson admitted after the Nets lost for the third time in four games since the All-Star break and saw their lead for seventh place in the East shaved to one-half game over Orlando.
“Not taking anything away from Washington,” he added. “There were just some infantile mistakes out there in terms of the turnovers. You’d have to ask the guys. I’m gonna ask ‘em. Not sure.”
Brooklyn (26-31) trailed by as many as 18 points following its putrid performance prior to intermissions, but rallied to take a 106-105 lead on Spencer Dinwiddie’s driving layup with 24.2 seconds to play.
On Washington’s ensuing trip, the Nets made sure that Bradley Beal, who had scored 50-plus points in each of the Wizards’ previous two games, didn’t beat them.
Unfortunately for the Nets, Jerome Robinson did.
Beal was swarmed by Brooklyn defenders and kicked out to Robinson, who drained a 27-footer to put the Wizards ahead to stay, 108-106 with 9.5 ticks remaining.
“We’ve got two [defenders] to the ball with Beal. He threw it out,” Atkinson said of the game’s deciding play.
“Credit to him for making that play. Lot of guys would have forced it, said I gotta be the hero. He was the hero by making the pass.”
Dinwiddie had a chance at some heroics of his own, but missed a 26-foot step-back jumper that would have given Brooklyn the lead back with 4.5 seconds to go.
“I thought Spencer had a great look,” Atkinson said. “We got the switch we wanted, got the step-back. Had plenty of time and space, but it didn’t go in. Sometimes, that’s what it comes down to.”
Robinson grabbed the rebound and made two free throws on the other end as the ninth-place Wizards (21-36) snapped a three-game skid and pulled within four-and-a-half games of the Magic for the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference with 25 regular-season contests remaining.
“We didn’t want (Beal) to beat us. … Robinson hit the big 3, obviously,” lamented Caris LeVert, who led Brooklyn with 34 points to go with seven assists, six rebounds and four steals.
“I think if we would have done it differently, we would have talked better on the switch. But we have to live with that.”
The Nets also have to live with the fact that they are now only five games ahead of the Wizards instead of seven and have already lost twice to Washington this month.
“We’ve got to stay positive. We can’t beat each other up,” insisted Nets veteran center DeAndre Jordan after recording his 11th double-double of the campaign with 16 points and 16 rebounds.
“But we definitely need to have some constructive criticism and more film sessions about it, which we do,” he added. “But that’s on the players more, so we’ve got to have, it’s on us. We’ve got to police each other a little better.”
Dinwiddie finished with 18 points and Taurean Prince added 13 for the Nets, who will resume their trip Friday night in Atlanta against the Hawks before visiting the Miami Heat on Saturday and the Boston Celtics next Tuesday.
“You’ve got to be fired up. This is the stretch run. You’ve got to have a sense of urgency,” noted Garrett Temple, who helped limit Beal to 30 points on 11-of-24 shooting after he had amassed 108 points over his previous two games.
“The attention to detail has to be heightened.”
If the Nets can’t get their collective focus together on the remainder of this trip, they might be clinging to their playoff lives by the time they return to host the Memphis Grizzlies at Downtown’s Barclays Center on March 4.
“That’s just the nature of the beast in the league,” Temple said. “The last 25 games, everything has to be tight and we have to do that and we won’t have those turnovers, we won’t have those missed assignments defensively, because we’re fighting for a playoff spot.”
Nothing But Net: The Nets will be shooting for their fourth win in as many meetings with the Hawks this season Friday night. Atlanta, which owns the East’s worst overall record at 17-43, has lost each of its first three games against Brooklyn by at least 10 points, including a 108-86 thumping at Barclays on Jan. 12. … LeVert has scored at least 20 points in six of Brooklyn’s last eight games since he was re-installed into the starting lineup.
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