The Brooklyn Nets may have lost two straight during theirmini west coast trip, but if there ever was a thing as “good losses,” those two qualify.
Any team that loses at Staples Center on consecutive nights won’t be as uncommon a sight as many would’ve thought entering this season, especially with the Los Angeles Lakers (7-5) a big surprise so far, and the co-tenant Clippers (10-1) currently sitting with the league’s best mark.
But the way the Nets (4-7) battled in both games suggests that Kenny Atkinson’s crew may not be as awful as many have thought. The Nets’ 1,000-1 Las Vegas preseason odds of winning a title might’ve given birth to many jokes and guffaws, but if recent play is indicative of things to come this season, this Brooklyn outfit may actually have some last laughs of its own.
No, the Nets won’t win the title this season – or any season in the near future – and they’ll most likely miss the playoffs again this year, but they’re definitely ascending and will have to be taken more seriously. Both Los Angeles squads found out early that any team coached by Atkinson will always play hard and fast, and won’t give in without a fight. The new Brooklyn head coach has always been one of the league’s better assistant coaches due to his relations with players and ability to have his ear to the ground in knowing what makes guys tick. He’s taken a team with limited talent and limited horizons and is making them respectable. It’s even more unfathomable that Brooklyn can stay in games late knowing they only have one legit All-Star level piece, center Brook Lopez.
But here are the Nets, sitting 3.5games out of first place, just a half-game behind the New York Knicks (4-6), with a respectable pace percentage (amount of scoring per 100 possessions), six guys scoring in double figures, and a backup point guard who is solidly holding down the fort until Jeremy Lin (hamstring) returns in at least another week.
Lopez, who netted 30 points on Tuesday night against the Lakers, has gotten help from unlikely sources. Undrafted rookie point guard Yogi Ferrell has been steady in relief, while others like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Trevor Booker, Randy Foye, Justin Hamilton, and Sean Kilpatrick have each had moments where they were adequate sidekicks. It’s that kind of unsung depth that’s kept the Nets in nearly every game. Brooklyn has the second-best scoring bench in the league with over 46 points per game, behind only the Lakers (51). And the offense has picked up lately, scoring over 106 points per game since Kilpatrick moved into the starting lineup. They’ve even recently beaten a playoff team from last season in the Detroit Pistons – the same squad that disposed of the Knicks earlier – and knocked off the uprising Minnesota Timberwolves, who throttled the Lakers just a couple days ago.
Atkinson’s urging to push the ball hasn’t even deterred the plodding Lopez, as the conventional big man has even been freed to test his boundaries. Lopez went 4-of-11 in 3s against the Lakers, tying a career high in makes from behind the stripe. And while 11 attempted 3s from a pure center may seem ludicrous to the old-school NBA fan, it just shows how much Atkinson thinks outside the box and allows his players the freedom to push their own limits.
Brooklyn averages over 106 points per game and is shooting an astounding 81-percent from the foul line. But they are also yielding over 110 points per and commit over 18 turnovers per game. The latter is a sign of a young team learning on the fly, but the former is showing the fruits of labor due to the confidence being instilled in them by their enthusiastic head coach on a nightly basis.
Winning consistently may not grow full bloom just yet, but it’s easy to see the buds growing in Brooklyn.
-The Nets are now 3-1 when Lopez goes over 25 points in a game.
-Lopez passed George Johnson on the Nets’ all-time shot-blocking leaderboard when he swatted three against the Lakers.
-A byproduct of the Nets rising could also affect the Boston Celtics, as they hold Brooklyn’s first-round pick from an earlier pick swap. Should the Nets continue to ascend, it would devalue that pick and strongly make Boston team president Danny Ainge consider dealing it.