Sometimes it takes one really bad day at the office to shake things up for everyone. For the Brooklyn Nets, that may have been this past Monday night.
The Nets limped back home after a five-game road trip which produced more losses than wins. Their point guard, Kyrie Irving, is sidelined with a shoulder injury. Caris LeVert is dealing with another rehab, this time it’s thumb surgery which placed a temporary hold on the youngster’s season.
The team, meanwhile, had lost three of their previous four games, and sure could’ve used a lift from being back home. The Indiana Pacers, a team dealing with their own list of injuries, clearly had other ideas for their trip to Brooklyn.
If a 115-86 loss to a team playing without two core pieces, Victor Oladipo and Matthew Brogdon, and two rotation players, Jeremy Lamb and T.J. McConnell – doesn’t sound the alarm for concern, then it’s time to get the batteries checked.
“Below-average teams are inconsistent, and that’s what we are right now,” head coach Kenny Atkinson said afterwards. “Until we get the group together and find some more consistency — what’s disappointing is I thought we had two good efforts, Denver and Utah, and then an excellent road win. Then to come here, in front of our fans, it just doesn’t feel good at all.”
Brooklyn has now lost four of their last five games and Irving’s return to the court has yet to be determined. The team’s struggles on defense this season hasn’t helped matters. They surrendered a 15-point lead in the loss to Utah, the loss in Denver was the result of coughing up a 16-point lead in the second half.
Expectations for the Nets, even without Kevin Durant yet, have been raised. While it’s still early enough in the season to correct what’s troubling them, the Nets know a “below-average” team isn’t what they signed up for when they made all those roster moves in the summer.
Irving’s ball-handling and offensive firepower are missed, and LeVert appeared to be getting into a good groove when he landed on the injury list. While those two are mending, the Nets are going to need Spencer Dinwiddie’s offense to set the tone. And let’s not leave out Joe Harris.
The Nets have an opportunity to get Harris the shot attempts which appeared to be missing at the start of this season. He’s demonstrated the ability to be more than just a knockdown three-point shooter, the Nets need to get the ball in his hands more than they have and also improve their overall shot selection.
But it’s on the defensive side is where the Nets really need to pick it up. If they’re not blowing late leads, they’re getting entirely blown out. Team defense is all about effort and communication, Brooklyn will need to improve in both areas.
At 5-8, and in the unpredictable Eastern Conference, all is not lost for the Nets this season. Atkinson is as patient as they come and appears to be using this opportunity to get more minutes for his younger players. Nic Claxton and Dzanan Musa can only benefit from the added playing time.
Brooklyn’s next three games are against teams with sub-.500 records, two of those three games are at Barclays Center, the third will be at Madison Square Garden against the Knicks. This is an ideal time for the Nets, without having to board any flights for a few days, to get back on the winning track while at home.
This means there must be improvement in all areas of the game, pretty much everything which went wrong against Indiana.