It will take some time before it looks right.
Networks are sitting crime with a new philosophy, a defense with new schemes and a lineup with new key players entering the rotation. With so many changes made during the offseason and training camp, the Nets were bound to experience some growing pains.
Nets head coach Steve Nash admitted the preseason has been full of them.
“We have to go through that period where guys are learning to play with each other,” he said. “It’s not always going to be pretty and it’s going to be a little bit ugly at times. … So being able to get through it and stay positive while we have some growing pains is just part of the process.”
Nash called Monday’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers “a mixed bag,” noting positives in the movement, pace and understanding of the newly established offense — while citing room for improvement on defense.
Networks lost to a 76ers team that rested four key players including both Joel Embiid and James Harden, 127-108, in Ben Simmons’ debut against his former team. Each member of the Brooklyn Big 3 played 19 of the 24 minutes in the first half before sitting out the second half.
In a few minutes, as Nash rolled out multiple lineups with one, two or all three of his stars on the floor, the Nets dug themselves a 20-point hole at the 8:13 mark of the second quarter, then cut Philly’s lead to just three at the half trailing by 13 points from Kevin Durant, 12 points from Nick Claxton and 11 points in a cracking game for newly acquired 3rd D wing Royce O’Neill.
“Obviously there were some ugly moments of the game, but there were also a lot of great stretches,” Nash said after practice Wednesday at the HSS Training Center in Industry City. “We saw the veterans in the first half and they had some moments where they found some synergy and got closer to the principles that we set for them at the beginning [training] the camp And so every day we have to get a little bit better at it.”
However, the Nets picked up where they left off defensively last season.
The Sixers rested two potential MVP candidates as well as role players PJ Tucker and Danwell House, but the Nets were unable to contain speedy guard Tyrese Maxey. Maxey handled Brooklyn’s defense, scoring 20 points in just 14 minutes with just two missed shots on eight attempts.
The Sixers scored 42 points on the Nets in the first quarter alone and successfully won the second half of the rivalry between the two teams. Nash said maintaining discipline is a major key to strengthening the defensive side of the ball.
“Discipline, however, comes from the priorities of the defense,” he said. If you’re really serious about it and you want to be a good defensive team or you want to defend, you’re going to thrive on defense. But if we take our foot off the gas pedal or are not mindful of the importance of that end of the pitch, we won’t be much better off. So every day we have to work together to prioritize defensively and keep building.”
Nash cited good health as a bright spot during training camp. After an injury-riddled season, only Seth Curry (ankle) and TJ Warren (foot) missed the preseason opener. Nash hopes Curry will play well in one of the final two preseason games, but after he missed two seasons with stress fractures in his left foot, Warren will step up the game more cautiously. He will be re-evaluated in November.
Aside from those two, the team is healthy and available, with Simmons back from offseason lower back surgery, Joe Harris back from two ankle surgeries that ended his season early last year, and Kyrie Irving back to home games after missing a big chunk last season due to New York’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Claxton also put on more muscle and improved his fitness in the offseason, which Nash described as a “more professional approach” to his craft.
“We’re in a good position right now with our health, so you can see all the pieces and how they can eventually fit together,” Nash said. “Now we’re trying to work out how these pieces can come together as quickly as possible. I have a lot of great clips of us sharing the ball, playing fast, making quick decisions and then defending, just going back to making it a priority. We have a lot of attacking guys in our group and making sure the defense is just as important.”