New Nets roster gears up for Friday’s season re-opener
Team 'getting better' as showdown with Magic approaches
Two losses and one win weren’t the story of the Brooklyn Nets’ three-scrimmage run-up to Friday night’s regular-season re-opener in Orlando, Florida.
Instead, the trio of exhibition games the new-look Nets played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex following a four-month pause due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic served as an icebreaker of sorts for a roster full of new players who are still learning how to compete together.
“I feel we got better as the games went on,” noted Nets guard Caris LeVert after scoring a team-high 23 points in Monday night’s scrimmage finale, a 112-107 loss to the Utah Jazz in Brooklyn’s final dress rehearsal before Friday’s much-anticipated showdown with the Orlando Magic.
“Obviously, Utah is a tough opponent, and we tried to play similar minutes to what we play in a game. I’m happy with our performance today even though we didn’t get the win. I felt like we played hard. We got better.”
They’ll have to continue doing so if they hope to secure the team’s second playoff berth in as many years.
Without Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Wilson Chandler, Taurean Prince and rookie Nic Claxton, none of whom will be available at any point during the eight-game run toward the postseason, the Nets hardly resemble the squad that began this campaign of great hope.
Instead, LeVert will be the undisputed team leader on the hardwood in Orlando, which is emblazoned with the Black Lives Matter logo.
He’ll rely heavily on returning rotation regulars like Jarrett Allen, Joe Harris, Garrett Temple and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot to provide stability to a lineup that will feature a slew of newcomers as the Nets (30-34) try to hold on to the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference over the next two weeks.
Following a blowout loss to New Orleans on July 22, a victory over San Antonio on Saturday and Monday’s defeat to Utah, the Nets are at the very least beginning to understand how to work on the court together despite their lack of familiarity as a unit.
“Actually, because a lot of the guys we brought in are veterans, they know the importance of communicating,” said Temple. “It’s just about the guys that are getting more minutes now than they had before understanding how important it is to talk when we’re out there on the court.
“The veteran guys — Jamal [Crawford], Tyler [Johnson], Lance [Thomas], guys know the importance of talking, so we’re the ones impressing on the younger guys like a [Dzanan] Musa, Jeremiah [Martin] and Chris [Chiozza] to make sure we communicate to make sure everybody’s on the same page on the floor.”
Nets interim head coach Jacque Vaughn, who is likely auditioning for a shot at the full-time post come next season, has taken a patient approach to building up a roster that has been in upheaval since four Nets, including Durant, tested positive for the potentially deadly virus back in March.
“I think overall, health is still a priority,” Vaughn said. “We see the effect it has had on our country and where we are, so I think it’s our responsibility to really not give into relaxing any of the standards put into place.
“The protocols have been established for a reason, extreme amount of research has gone into it and I think it’s on us to hold our end of the responsibility and hold those protocols into place.”
While health is doubtlessly at the top of his list of priorities, Vaughn also wants his club to focus on the task at hand, avoiding a potential play-in series with the ninth-seeded Washington Wizards and making the most of the days they have leading up to Friday’s critical game against eighth-seeded Orlando.
“We’ll clean up some things,” he said. “We’ll continue to reinforce some of the concepts. I think it’s a great three days for us. We’ll start with a day off [Tuesday], give guys a chance to see how they responded from the increased minutes.
“And then two laser-focused days of preparation. Two big games for us at the beginning of this segment, so can we focus and maybe implement a few things that those teams haven’t seen and give ourselves a chance.”
They will all be big games once the Nets tip off against the Magic, who are just a half-game behind Brooklyn for the No. 7 seed.
The Nets will take on the Wizards on Sunday and try to keep pace with the conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks next Tuesday before completing their only back-to-back during the restart Wednesday vs. the Boston Celtics.
Brooklyn also has games scheduled against Sacramento on Aug. 7, the Los Angeles Clippers on Aug. 9, another big game vs. Orlando on Aug. 11 and the regular-season finale Aug. 13 against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Whether they wind up back in the playoffs for a second straight year or not, Vaughn is proud of how the Nets stuck together during these turbulent and unprecedented times.
“It was a great test of our resolve as an organization,” he said. “Great test of our communication as an organization. The leadership during that time, when you’re really concerned about the welfare of the families that were in New York at the time.
“Whether we had players that were in market or out of market, really concerning to the organization in making sure guys were taken care of as far as supplies and the kids were taken care of. I think you think empathetically so you’re out really thinking of others. That approach made it really conducive for us to take care of our players and everyone else that continues to be affected by what’s going on.”
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