Nets raising expectations with big defensive change


Despite opening the season Tuesday vs. Golden State in an empty Barclays Center, the Nets aren’t letting the COVID-19 pandemic, or weird year it has wrought, derail their NBA Finals aspirations. They still need championship focus, including learning to play title-worthy defense.

“There’s really no way to describe just everything that has been going on this year. Coming into the season, I still don’t know how to describe it,” said Jarrett Allen. “It’s a highly anticipated season, people were looking forward to this since a year and a half [ago]. It sucks that we can’t have fans, our big supporters in there. We just have to take it day by day like we have, even when we weren’t contenders.”

Like Allen, Joe Harris has been with the Nets since they were closer to cellar dwellers. And he admits being one of a majority of league teams playing with no fans is different, but so is just about everything in 2020.

“We understand coming into the season everything’s very unusual,” said Harris. “We’re certainly trying to make the most of the situation. It hasn’t altered our expectations, even though it is an unusual dynamic. We still have championship aspirations, and we’re not shy in terms of discussing it and trying to build those habits, ingrain those things early.”

Jarrett Allen defends Isaac Bonga.
Corey Sipkin

Those championship aspirations may rest on ingraining a more aggressive defense. They played a conservative style under Kenny Atkinson, but interim coach Jacque Vaughn deployed a more disruptive scheme in the Orlando bubble. Despite inconsistent results, Steve Nash feels it’s better-suited to beat playoff-level foes and plans to keep that style with Vaughn as his de facto defensive coordinator.

“If you talk to the coaches, it’s like ‘We want to put in the defense that wins playoffs.’ There are certain defenses that you can get through the regular season with, but when it comes down to the last couple of people, you want to be able to have a defensive scheme that stops them,” Allen said. “So, that’s what we’re really trying to implement and the pace that we’re going at.”

Installing that has been Nash’s focus in camp, with practice time expected to be scarce once this condensed five-month season gets underway.

“I’ve been proud of the way they’ve competed defensively, lot of good things, but a long way to go, as you’d expect. What’ve we had, 10, 11 practices?” Nash asked rhetorically. “That’s something that’s going to be a journey defensively all season to continue to climb and be the best defensive team we can be.”

Golden State’s Draymond Green is doubtful with a muscle strain in his right foot. His spat with Kevin Durant hastened the latter’s move to Brooklyn.

“If he does play, obviously, we realize what he’s able to do on both ends of the floor, how he’s able to create for his teammates, the pace he plays with and then what he does defensively,” said Harris.

Ex-Net and Knick Jeremy Lin’s plan to sign with the Warriors’ G-League team collapsed when his Letter of Clearance didn’t arrive by Saturday’s waiver deadline.

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