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Atkinson, Nets hope to rediscover their early season identity

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Orlando Magic Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After the Nets squandered its third straight loss, head coach Kenny Atkinson was blunt about his team’s performance on the night.

“At the end of the day, if we would have pulled it out, I don’t think we really would have deserved it,” he explained.

The Nets started the season with some convincing team-oriented basketball. The ball was moving and having a balanced attack was the theme of the team. They beat the defending Eastern Conference Champs and had a winning record for the first time since 2014. Then, they were blown out by the Knicks and it snowballed into a three-game losing streak.

Three games isn’t the end of the world, and the team hasn’t even played 10 games yet. However, it’s the way the style of play has changed. The Nets relied heavily on their system with a “next man up” mentality. All players, 1-through-15, looked ready to fill their role when called upon, but after the Knicks game, the offense grew stagnant and the rhythm was gone.

“Somehow, we got out of rhythm during this past three-game stretch. I’m not sure where that team I saw in preseason and those first five games is. It just seems like we lost the rhythm. I really don’t have an answer as to why that’s happened.” Kenny Atkinson said after Tuesday’s 13-point loss to Phoenix.

After the loss to the Knicks, the fear was bad habits developing. Especially the little things that add up, like missed box-outs, missed defensive assignments, lack of ball movement, and so many other things.

In the first five games, it looked like the Brooklyn Nets finally developed an identity, but now they look like a team that’s looking to find an identity.

“I think we get down. There’s two things. I think we get down when we miss shots and when we don’t move the ball. It affects our defense, it affects our spirit. Again, I was just surprised because we haven’t done it all year – settling for a lot of contested shots. It was, again, surprising.”

The Nets look like a unit that is simply looking for answers. They scratched three early victories with the help of their fast-paced motion-offense, plus a hint of pick and roll for players like D’Angelo Russell and Jarrett Allen to thrive in. The defense has been brutal, but they played well enough on offense to grind out a few wins. Their effort alone posed as a threat to other teams.

But that hasn’t been the case.

“[We] have to want it more, got to come out and compete no matter what. Height, size doesn’t matter. It’s about who wants it more,” said Rondae Hollis-Jefferson when he was asked about the team’s effort.

Nobody is hitting the panic button just yet, certainly not after just eight games into the regular season. However, there is reason for concern that a team would go from thriving within a system to a team that is now looking for answers any way they can get them.

The defense is non-existent and the offense isn’t in rhythm. Instead of complaining, it’s back to the drawing board and somehow finding an answer before the team heads out on this five-game road trip.

“We just have to look at film and think about what we’ve been doing wrong as a whole. I can make a case at this and another player can make a case at that, but it’s about finding what we gotta do to get back to where we were, believing in it and riding it,” Hollis-Jefferson said.