They say familiarity breeds contempt, but in the case of the Nets, it’s finally starting to breed communication and cohesion.
Brooklyn came into Tuesday’s tilt at Phoenix on a three-game winning streak. With each of the wins coming by double-digits — and showing auspicious signs on defense, especially on switches — the Nets harbored hopes they are turning a corner.
“Lately we’ve just gotten more comfortable with our defense. We’ve been much more early and anticipated better. We’ve communicated better, cleaned up a lot of mistakes,” coach Steve Nash said. “We had some lulls with our effort, but the last [few] games the effort’s been there, communication’s been there and stuck with the game plan. We’ve started to show stretches where we’ve been very solid defensively.
“We’re starting to feel pretty comfortable with our schemes and our approach. So we’re getting past hopefully that identifying and observing stage, and now we’re starting to build. So hopefully there’s some consistency coming where we can get a little sharper, a little better, have more prolonged stretches, and have that sustainability and consistency. Hopefully we’re turning a little bit of a corner.”
Part of that is just having had more time on the court together, not just in games but in practice.
The condensed schedule has robbed every team of valuable practice time, but it’s less damaging to teams running it back like the Jazz or Lakers than squads like the Nets, who were already getting used to new coaches, system and teammates — and that was before the upheaval of the James Harden trade.
They have already had 18 starting lineups, and precious little practice.
“Obviously we make the trade. A lot of people wanted us to click right away. They wanted us to get going coming out of the gates with the ‘Big 3’ clicking on all cylinders,” Jeff Green said. “But we knew in our locker room that it was going to take time to address how we wanted to play, where we wanted guys to be; we knew that’d take time.”
Green was referring more to the offensive end of the court. But where the recent cohesion has paid dividends is on the other end of the floor.
Discounting games, the Nets have crammed in as many on-court sessions in the past week as they had in the prior month. After having only two or three sessions that could be viewed as practices from Harden’s arrival through Feb. 7, they have had two full practices and their only two shootarounds of the year.
“We have to find ways to improve, and if our games are the majority of our opportunity to improve, the shootaround each morning can help us at night with the game,” Nash said. “It adds a little to the players’ plate, but I’m excited we’re throwing in some shootarounds and getting more touches with the guys and able to drill down on our principles.”
It’s clearly helped in bouncing back from the humbling Feb. 9 defeat in Detroit.
From the Harden trade through that loss, the Nets had been dead last in the league in Defensive Rating and defensive loose balls recovered, and just 27th in percentage of defensive loose balls recovered. But in the three wins since they’d ranked 14th, ninth and No. 1 overall, respectively.
“[A key is] effort, and having each other’s back,” Harden said. “The more we can communicate, have each other’s back and talk to each other when we’re on the court, especially on defense. First, it slows the offense up. And second, it gives each guy confidence to guard the ball knowing you have help on the backside.”
The eye-test confirms as much. The images of DeAndre Jordan not contesting a Mason Plumlee hook shot in Detroit or Kyrie Irving’s porous defense were damning. But in the recent resurgence, Jordan has been a vocal communicator and the Nets have been much crisper on scram switches.
On Monday, with Irving about to get posted up by Harrison Barnes — 6 inches taller and 25 pounds heavier — Harden rotated over to let Irving get out of the bad matchup. The result was Harden forcing a turnover that Irving took the other way. It’s indicative of the kind of cohesion that familiarity has bred.