Throughout training camp, several Brooklyn Nets players spoke of erasing the team’s previous reputation as being “soft.” But the Nets’ performance in their season opening on Wednesday night could best be described as “soft.”
In front of an audience of 18,000 at home, the New Orleans Pelicans dominated the Nets 130–108. Brooklyn was outrebounded 61-39 and outscored 36-4 on points from second chances. After the game, Kevin Durant blamed his team’s lack of effort on the boards for the lopsided defeat.
It was just one of those games where you completely botched the little details, Durant said. “36-4 points on second chances. Never going to win that way.
He continued, “On defence, we have to box out, put a body on them, and not let them get in our paint.” We must keep the ball out of the paint because if you allow a team to enter your paint and leave your players on the perimeter, they will rush for the glass. We simply need to prevent teams from entering the paint because if they’re shooting over us, their team will have to switch to defensive mode rather than crashing.
It’s important to note that the Nets have one of the worst matchups in the league against the Pelicans. Brooklyn was outmatched physically by New Orleans’ powerful frontcourt of Zion Williamson (6’6″, 284 pounds) and Jonas Valanciunas (6’11”, 265 pounds). Williamson played in his first regular-season game since May 2021, but he showed no signs of rust, finishing with 25 points and 9 rebounds. A game-high 13 boards were secured by Valanciunas, six of which were offensive.
They beat us in every category tonight, Nets head coach Steve Nash said postgame. My message to the guys was just raising our standards of competition. We gave up 21 offensive rebounds and turned the ball over. We let them in our paint way too often. Things we had been preparing for, we ve been working on, and we just didn t execute.
Zion looked great in his return to action tonight! #KiaTipOff22
4 STL pic.twitter.com/grzb1loFyK
— NBA (@NBA) October 20, 2022
Brooklyn’s lack of size and depth at center was a concern heading into the season. Nic Claxton will serve as the starter and played well in spurts Wednesday, scoring 13 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. However, the fourth-year big will have trouble against bigger bodies at just 227 pounds. After letting Andre Drummond walk in free agency, the Nets are limited to second-year big Day’Ron Sharpe and small-ball option Markieff Morrisas backups.
Sharpe was overmatched in 23 minutes Wednesday. It is difficult to envision the 20-year-old being a championship rotation player at this early stage of his career. Morris played just three minutes in the opener. The 34-year-old offers a floor-spacing option but will struggle to rebound against traditional centers at 6’8″. To make matters worse, Ben Simmons looked tentative and made little to no impact on either end in his long-anticipated Nets debut.
The lack of depth at center will likely force general manager Sean Marks to turn to the trade market this season. Nash said the Nets are aware of their lack of size in the frontcourt, which makes gang rebounding and outhustling opponents a necessity.
We re never going to be the biggest team, we re not going to lead the league in rebounds, but there s still a level of understanding that that s a weakness for us, he said. We ve talked about it every day. We have to come back and double-team on the glass and flood it. That s a part of just being competitive and being aware and understanding where our weaknesses are and trying to combat them from the start.
Plays like this are a perfect example of Nets’ rebounding woes last night. Valanciunas is a load down low, but Sharpe is listed at 265 pounds and has inside position.
Need much better effort on these box-outs. pic.twitter.com/Qdd2QyFOuR
— Erik Slater (@erikslater_) October 20, 2022
Following a lethargic preseason loss to Miami two weeks ago, Kyrie IrvingsaidBrooklyn doesn’t want a lack of hustle and physicality to be their M.O. this season.
“We re not playing hard enough, Irving said. The most physical teams usually win ballgames, especially down the stretch. So we ve got to be tougher.
New Orleans offered a similar style of play as Miami and got the same uninspired effort from Brooklyn in return. This had Irving relaying the same message postgame Wednesday.
We talked every day for the last two weeks about what we want to have as an identity as a team and tonight we didn t show that, Irving said. We have to improve on these areas that are considered weaknesses right now. And that s boxing out and doing the little things.
Those details are really going to dictate our season, he continued. It s how often and how consistent are we going to be dedicated to doing the little things, which is boxing out as you saw. The same plays that demoralize the fans at home demoralize us as players on the court when they consistently get second-chance points and offensive rebounds and they re doing the little things that really decide a game at times.
Despite their lack of size at center, the Nets have thelength and athleticismto make things difficult for bigger bodies. Simmons and Royce O’Neale offer above-average defensive versatility and rebounding on the wing that should help assuage issues at center. There were flashes of this Wednesday with Brooklyn doubling the post, rotating and crashing the glass on certain possessions. However, that collective effort was few and far between in the loss.
I don t want to sit in this seat after every game and say, We should ve done this, we should ve done that’, Irving said postgame. This is a grown man s league, and the most physical team wins, and New Orleans came in with intent to show us why they re going to be in the hunt for championships in the next few years.
As Irving said all preseason, actions speak louder than words. Until the Nets prove themselves on the court, the “soft” reputation that the team wanted to avoid will remain throughout the league.
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