The Nets’ recent funk isn’t just one thing.
“You name it,” coach Steve Nash admitted, as his struggling team prepared to host the Spurs on Sunday. “We’ve really struggled since returning from all the COVID interruptions. We were having a very good year. We actually played well through the COVID situation. Since we’ve gotten everyone back more or less we just haven’t had the confidence, the spirit, the joy.
“And you could see it: Too many lapses and not enough pace and enthusiasm. We’ve got to find that. We’ve got to get that back after this interruption, and be a group that goes out there and is difficult to play against.”
The Nets have been all too easy to play against lately, putting up little resistance. Defense, rebounding, physicality, spacing, it’s all taken a hit.
“It feels like it’s everything, honestly,” James Harden said. “We can’t get stops consistently. Offensively, it’s a little difficult, our spacing isn’t great most possessions. It’s a little of everything, and it feels like it’s all piling on each other.”
The Nets have dropped four of their last five games, including a 121-109 loss to the Bucks on Friday night.
“I mean, there’s a multitude of [issues],” Kevin Durant said. “Offensive rebounds, even though I don’t think that hurt us [Friday], that’s hurt us over this little stretch, that’s been hurting us. Not staying in front of the ball, like giving up straight line drives, and teams come here knocking down 3s.”
The Nets have allowed at least 10 3-pointers and 110 points in all five of those games. They have failed to run foes off the line. While they had overcome being shorthanded all season by remaking themselves as a defense-minded team, their “care level” has taken a dip ever since their roster has gotten closer to whole lately.
“I’d be a hell of a coach if I knew [why],” Nash said. “We’ve got to get to work. We’ve got to find the resolve, finding the everyday come in and do the right things, invest in the group and try to pick your teammates up. And if we could have that character where we’ll do everything we can individually and also pick our teammates up, we’ll get back to playing good basketball.”
The Nets had played good, first-place basketball all the way through the holidays.
They were perched atop the Eastern Conference with a 23-9 record on Dec. 29, a game ahead of the Bulls and two clear of the Bucks. They had gotten there by guarding, with a defensive rating that was fifth-best in the NBA (106.4).
But since then? Their defensive rating of 119.2 is third-worst in the league. And they have fallen 2 ½ games behind the Bulls and into a tie with the Bucks.
“Our physicality is the start of it. Being up into the ball, make sure our man feels us, that’s the beginning right there. That’s where it starts,” Harden said. “And then as a possession, as the shot clock gets lower and lower, we’ve got a better chance of locking in on the ball, whether it’s pick-and-roll or iso, and that gives a better position at rebounding the basketball.”
A poor rebounding team even at their best, the Nets relied on the league’s second-best field-goal defense (42.7 percent) before hitting their slide. They have been just 20th since the skid began.
“There’s a few common threads,” Nash said. “We’re not into the ball. We’re not combative enough to start games. We’re not clean enough with our communication at the level of the ball. There’s not enough of a presence. We can do better in transition as well getting organized. It’s fundamental stuff that’s taken a dip since we all got back together. We can see it clearly. We have to work at it now. We have to take it to heart and we have to rebuild.
“We’ve just got to continue to get back to where we were being a lot more physical, a lot more decisive in actions and get that swagger back defensively.”