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On Day One, it’s Defense

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Brooklyn Nets

No surprise, considering what Kenny Atkinson has said about the value of team defense — the Nets are focusing on that end of the court their first few days of camp.

"We need to be clear on what we’re doing right from the first day," Atkinson said. "It’s the first thing we addressed and we understand that we need balance to be a good team, we understand that, so it’s not like we’re forgetting about the offense, but that was our mindset a little bit."

As John Schuhmann of NBA.com has noted, the Nets were 29th last season in team defense —and got progressively worse— while Atkinson’s Hawks were second in the NBA, first in the East.

Specifically, the Nets worked on two of their biggest weaknesses last season: transition defense and pick-and-roll defense.

"Transition defense is huge today in the NBA," he said. "That’s where it starts and teams are rushing the ball up quicker and quicker every year, so teams want to score early in the shot clock, so getting our transition defense set and then after that it’s your pick and roll defense.

"In the NBA pick-and-rolls are coming every day, everywhere, every place, so just giving our guys a comfort level and again right off the bat, saying this is what we’re doing in those situations."

Players admit that they can do better.

"I’m always looking for ways to improve and challenge myself … I’m not a perfect player and I’m absolutely looking forward to this opportunity,’’ Brook Lopez said. "There’s no question that’s somewhere I look to get better. … Being better in pick-and-rolls, better at covering guys on the perimeter, whatever he needs from me, I’ll do it."

Meanwhile, Atkinson and his back-up point guard, Greivis Vasquez, offered some optimism about the Venezuelan’s return.

Vasquez underwent surgery on his left ankle in December after being troubled by bone spurs. He was expected to return in three or four months and indeed he played a few minutes in a few games at the end of the regular season in Milwaukee but has continued to be troubled by ankle pain.

He opted out of the Olympics in August to focus on his rehab and as recently as last week, Sean Marks was reluctant to put a date on his return.

Meanwhile, the other rehabbing Net, rookie Caris LeVert continues on his return. He was seen running on the side of the court Tuesday. On Monday, he described his daily schedule to NetsDaily.

"I get here about 8 o’clock every day. I get some breakfast, do some rehab with the staff for about an hour, get in some lifting, some conditioning. shooting, stretching," said swing man.

Like LeVert, Atkinson wouldn’t put a date on LeVert’s return to the court. And even once he does return, he will take some time to get into game shape, not having played since mid-January.

The Nets coach, a Long Island native, surprised his team and others by giving St. John’s coach and Hall of Famer Chris Mullin a tour of the HSS Training Center.

"This guy was born in Brooklyn, was a great player, a coach at St. Johns," said Atkinson of his long-time friend. "I think it’s good for our players to be aware of a little bit of the history of Brooklyn basketball and he’s obviously one of the pillars, or best players ever."

Atkinson said he hopes to bring in other players and coaches with New York backgrounds.