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When “small ball” makes sense ... and when it doesn’t

NBA: Preseason-Miami Heat at Brooklyn Nets Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets don’t have a lot of bigs and the bigs they do have pale in comparison to the big that they traded away in Brook Lopez. So, Kenny Atkinson has been enthused about trading height for speed. Will it work?

It could in today’s NBA where traditional centers are less and less important. But as Brian Lewis points out, there are limits.

“That’s where we’ve got to make a quick adjustment. If we see we’re getting absolutely torched from a defensive standpoint, we can’t do it,” Atkinson told Lewis. “I think a lot of that is game situation. Are we down 20 points and need to emphasize offense more? Are we up 10 points, and did we get the lead because we went small? So basically it’s offensive/defensive [situation].

“What the game score looks like, what the game clock looks like. There’s a lot of factors. Are you just going to blindly do it? We’re going small because we have to go small. Part of the equation is what does the other team have out there? For example, Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] on [Joel] Embiid: that’s probably a little much for him and that’s where we could get another bigger guy in there to help out.”

Indeed. While the Nets were able to deal with Kristaps Porzingis (and Willy Hernangomez), they had big problems with Embiid and also Hassan Whiteside.

Whiteside scored 19 points in 17:36 and Embiid, displaying an all-around game, went from 22 points in 14:45, including a 14-of-18 performance at the line, Lewis notes. That won’t work.

Each of the Nets bigs has some positives. Timofey Mozgov is a big man who can punish opposing centers but is hardly mobile. Tyler Zeller is more mobile, more athletic but isn’t a defensive stalwart. And rookie Jarrett Allen, all of 19 years and six months, is learning on the fly. The assumption that he would spend a lot of time in Long Island was wrong. The Nets plan on force-feeding him. He’s look decent, but he’s still raw.

But in the small ball line-ups, expect Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Trevor Booker to see more minutes. As Jeremy Lin notes, you can’t measure success by looking at what Embiid did. He’s proven that if healthy he can do that against anyone.

On Wednesday, they’ll face the PacersMyles Turner, like Embiid and Whiteside, an agile, mobile 6’11” big man. It will be a good test.