When you’re young, you’re told that improvements come when matched-up against those more talented than you.
The Brooklyn Nets are in the midst of a hell of a back-to-back, coming off a home game against the defending champion Golden State Warriors which they lost 118-111. Now, they’re in Cleveland, getting ready for a Wednesday showdown against the Cavaliers, whom the Warriors have faced in the last three NBA Finals. And a team that’s won five straight.
Kenny Atkinson recalls well how his Nets beat the Cavs in October. That was Spencer Dinwiddie’s breakout game, a memorable career-night (at the time). But he knows that the Cavs aren’t the same team they were a month ago.
“I think they are a different team right now,” Atkinson said of Cleveland. “They are starting to really get it together. It is what it is. Obviously we looked at the tape and there are a lot of good things we did against them that worked against them, but again, they’ve progressed. Every NBA game is different so it will be a different challenge but we will take some things from the first game and apply them.”
Quincy Acy also talked about the difficulties in matching up with the Cavs versatility down low, which by extension makes for trouble out on the perimeter.
“Yeah, it’s not the same team,” Acy said of Cleveland after Tuesday’s practice . “They’re getting some guys back and healthy. They’re finding their rhythm and they’re going to come out hungry. So yeah, it’s going to be a different ballgame.”
Does it help playing the two most recent champs back-to-back?
“Yeah it helps. We’ve got to compete every night,” he said. “We came out sluggish against the Warriors, and against great teams, any team, when you try to come out and compete for something, you can’t come out like that.”
As to whether or not Acy and the Net players have been challenged by Atkinson, Acy says: absolutely.
“No question. It’s not just against the Warriors. It’s like; we can’t come out like that at all,” Acy said. “We’re trying to build something here. Trying to have a culture that’s for the future and if we’re going to compete for anything, we can’t come out like that.”
He also adds that he wasn’t allowed to say what Atkinson said after their slow start against the Warriors although we’d love to hear it. Caris LeVert said it came down to “Play harder,” but apparently it was more robust than that.
DeMarre Carroll also weighed in on the prospect of LeBron James and company, saying that playing these elite teams early in the season will be helpful for Brooklyn long term.
“I think it’s good for our young group, getting these challenges early to try to come out and compete early,” said Carroll on Tuesday. “I rather have these challenges early in the year rather than later. They tell you something about your team. They kind of get you understanding each other.
“When you’re playing the defending champs and the other defending champs, it’s kind of key into our development I feel like. Hopefully we could take a lot of lessons on this and be better later in the year than we are right now.”
A big reason why the Nets won against the Cavaliers, and have been successful on certain nights this season, has been ball movement and unselfishness.
Atkinson knows that, and talked about the importance of having it as a constant in the Nets’ offense.
“I think we’re 29th in the league in iso attempts, so we’re not doing it a lot,” said Atkinson. “I will say we’ve played a bunch of switching teams lately and it forces you to ‘hey I’m a big guy and you’re a small, quick guy and I’ve got to take you – I’ve got to exploit that advantage we have.’ When it doesn’t work out, attacking that mismatch, it looks bad because it was an iso play.
“We are putting strategies in right now that I think will help,” he continued. “I wish I could say it was one or the other. Against switches, you have to rely on some one-on-one play and punish the other team for switching,” he continued.
“Whether it’s a small on a big and attacking from the perimeter or it’s in the post with a big on a small guy – both ways – but the tough thing with the Boston’s and Golden States, with their length and size sometimes it isn’t really a mismatch. It’s Draymond Green switching on to Spencer. Draymond Green can guard ones pretty good. But we can move it, we can cut. Still, I think we can break the defense down by moving (the ball) even against switches.
“So that’s where I am. I am being stubborn. But I do understand the players point: ‘hey I’ve got this mismatch and I want to take the guy.’ We’re just trying to find that balance.”
In short: He’s not here for iso ball. If they move the ball again, maybe the Nets could have similar success in round two against the champs. They hope so.