Nets’ defense has become a major factor in playoff push

The Brooklyn Nets are passing the eye test for what a playoff team should look like.

This team has the offense which can turn the lights out in a hurry for opponents. D’Angelo Russell is having an All-Star season, Joe Harris is as lethal as they come from long-distance, and the duel of Spencer Dinwiddie and Caris LeVert are providing instant offense off the bench in the team’s revamped rotation.

There’s no shortage of leadership on the Nets. Veterans Jared Dudley, Ed Davis and DeMarre Carroll have stepped up whenever the situation has called to provide guidance and perspective for the youngsters. Russell has emerged this season vocally, another indication of his coming of age.

A talented offense and strong veteran leadership are key components for any team to achieve success. But the old saying still applies and remains as strong as ever.

“Offense wins games, but defense wins championships.”

The Nets have not won anything yet. They’re opening eyes around the league with how quickly they’ve improved. Head coach Kenny Atkinson, however, is quick to warn that although they’ve surpassed this year’s team expectations, there’s still work to be done.

Brooklyn’s getting Atkinson’s message loud and clear. Lately, they’re also answering the bell on the defensive end of the court.

After a three-game slide almost derailed the Nets from their playoffs push, the team ramped up their defense. They’ve won four straight since and have re-positioned themselves into the sixth spot in the east. A renewed commitment to defense has proven to be the driving force.

A convincing 103-75 blowout win over the Detroit Pistons, Monday night at Barclays Center, doubled-down on how well Brooklyn’s playing defense lately.

In their previous three wins, the Nets held Dallas, Cleveland and Atlanta to just 37.6 percent shooting combined from the field. They put the brakes on Detroit’s five-game winning streak by holding them to 28 percent shooting. Since February 1, the Pistons have had the NBA’s best offense and three-point shooting team. But the Nets put the clamps on them as they made just 8-for-34 from deep, barely 24 percent.

Defense is all about effort and commitment. When the entire team buys in, the overall results are always favorable. Simply put, the Nets have bought-in and are benefiting from the results.

Critics could turn towards the level of competition during Brooklyn’s recent win-streak as a way to poke holes in their success. Dallas, Cleveland, and Atlanta are not playoff teams. Detroit, the team Brooklyn just leap-frogged playoff standings, was also playing their third game in four nights. But, as another old saying goes… teams become playoff teams by beating the teams they’re supposed to beat. That’s exactly what the Nets are doing.

And, because of what’s ahead, they needed those wins.

The Nets, Wednesday night, open a seven-game road trip in Oklahoma City against Russell Westbrook, Paul George and the Thunder. The six-city trip is the longest of the season for Brooklyn. All seven teams are contending for playoff spots, including the Sacramento Kings hoping to catch the Utah Jazz for the eighth spot in the West.

Brooklyn’s margin for error on this trip will be slim to none. Detroit, Miami, and Orlando are breathing down their backs. They’ll be looking to capitalize on any signs of slippage.

The Nets only have four of their final 13 regular season games at home. If they’re going to solidify their playoff position the heavy lifting will need to be done on this road trip.

It’ll take everything that’s worked so far for Brooklyn to stay ahead of the pack. The offense will have to click, the leadership must remain strong, and their commitment to defense must stay a priority.

With those three components now coming together at the same time for Brooklyn, there’s no doubting the eye test.






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