(Brook Lopez – @BrooklynNets)
The Brooklyn Nets have gotten off to a tough start this season, as they dealt with a brutal schedule in November and a lot of games on the road.
Their fortunes could change as they have a lot of games at Barclays Center, where they have done pretty well so far this season, in December.
The Nets won their fourth in a row at Barclays, as they outlasted the Phoenix Suns, 94-91. Their win over Detroit on Sunday was the first of a stretch in which eight of nine games are at home, and the only road game is at The Garden against the Knicks on Friday night.
Nets point guard Jarrett Jack said of whether they feel like they’re starting to build something after winning four in a row at home, “I’m sure nobody in there knew about that until you brought it up. We’re just trying to take it one game at a time. It’s cool that we’re starting to put games together, but we have to be able to do it on the road as well if we want to be a good team. It’s not a far trip, but Friday (at the Knicks), it’s not our building. We have to go in there and create our own energy in another atmosphere against a team that’s playing up and down like us. We have to go in there and play hard.”
The Nets start a six-game homestand, on Sunday against the unbeaten Golden State Warriors on Sunday, followed by Houston on Tuesday the 8th, Philadelphia on Thursday the 10th, the Clippers on the 12th, Orlando on Monday the 14th, and Miami on the 16th.
There are definitely some winnable games here. The only three that are glaringly tough are the ones against the Warriors, Clippers, and Heat.
The one promising note for the Nets against the Warriors is that they have never won in Brooklyn. The Clippers and Heat are strong teams, but can be inconsistent at times, and the Nets can win that because they give far more effort every night.
One thing the Nets have shown in the first month of the season is that they are very competitive and will be in every game. Two highlights of that were against last year’s NBA Finalists, as they took the Warriors to overtime in Oakland and took the Cleveland Cavaliers to the wire on Saturday night, losing on a LeBron James shot at the buzzer, 90-88.
When you compete every night, the law of averages says you are going to start winning games.
Lopez said of developing a home court advantage with all the home games coming up, “Absolutely, we grew a lot on the road. Now that we are back home, I think we are very comfortable in that situation, and you know, hopefully we’ll see the environment continue to grow and turn in our favor as we continue to be successful on our home court, because that’s going to be a huge advantage for us down the stretch, as I think we fill out those seats to get more people rooting us on because it’s huge right now.”
Nets Head Coach Lionel Hollins said of their tough start on the road, “I’m going to give you the coach speech, ‘one game at a time. Doesn’t matter where we play, we want to be focused and play well, and try to win the game.’ Looking back on the schedule doesn’t do any good. It’s already passed and we cannot go back and get another win. We cannot play one of those games we play at home, none of that can happen, so my focus is to keep going forward and keep getting better as a group. I think our unit is coming together tighter and tighter. They’re starting to trust each other more and more, and that’s important as we go forward. But, you know, doing the right things and making the plays is most important.”
The reason the Nets are competitive is their defense. On Tuesday night, the Nets held the high-flying Phoenix Suns to just 91 points, the third straight game they have held a team to 91 or fewer points. The Nets held just one opponent (Atlanta on November 17) under 91 points in their first 15 games.
Hollins said of what he liked to see from the Nets’ defense, “Just the effort, the consistency of second, third effort, chasing down rebounds, I thought we did a great job on the glass in that fourth quarter, and you know, we only had one turnover as well, so all those things are factors. I don’t look at how many points we hold a team to – I’m not into that. As a coach, you know, I just like to win.”
The Nets were led by Brook Lopez, who had 23 points on 10-for-20 from the field, with six rebounds and two assists. Lopez is averaging 19.9 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.
One reason the Nets are starting to win games is the play of rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who has cemented his spot in the starting lineup. He had eight points on 4-for-5 from the field, with nine rebounds and an assist.
Point guard play for the Nets was superb. Jarrett Jack had 11 points and eight assists, and four rebounds, while Shane Larkin had nearly identical numbers off the bench, with 11 points, eight assists, and five rebounds. Each played 30 minutes, with both on the court for the fourth quarter, in which the Nets outscored Phoenix 24-18.
Jack said of Larkin, “Amazing. He’s been doing that the past three or four games for us, coming in, being that spark plug for us, setting the pace, setting the tempo, knocking down big shots. He’s been doing a tremendous job, him and Wayne Ellington as well. They both in, and Wayne Ellington as well. They both come in, and Wayne struggled for a few games there, but the past two games have been tremendous for them.”
Larkin said of being comfortable playing that much, “Yes. I’m playing with confidence every single game, just going out there playing my game. Coach (Hollins) is talking to me every single day and just tells me to keep doing what I’m doing and what he sees that I’m not doing as well, what he wants me to do more of. It’s just a process. You have to keep building on every single game, good or bad, go see what you did bad in a game, see what you did good and try to build on that next time you go on the court.”
Wayne Ellington came up huge for the Nets, as he had 11 points (5-7 FG, 1-3 on threes), including seven in the fourth, off the bench.
Hollins said of how valuable it is to have a guy like Ellington making shots off the bench, “I mean, it is valuable. That is the only way you can win – if the guys that have the ability make the plays that need to made – so I’m happy for Wayne. I try to stick by him. I try to stick by him. I know that he can make shots and keep getting his confidence back. He made a big shot – a couple of big shots. Again, to just get us going, once he starts making shots, everybody perked up and the focus got better. And when you make shots, it makes your defense that much better.”