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Brooklyn Nets refuse to accept “moral victories” ... but they continue to mount

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Phoenix Suns Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

A downcast Kenny Atkinson sat at the podium after Sunday afternoon’s game and offered some optimism after another close, yet disappointing loss.

“Good experience for our young guys Jarrett (Allen) and Caris (LeVert), getting their feet wet. We’ll learn from it.” But then he followed up with five words Nets fans are saying and feeling this season.

“Tough loss, really tough loss.”

We’ve spoken so much about how the Nets fight until the very end, no matter who they have on the floor or who they are facing. It has become their M.O. However, when the games are as close as they are, moral victories are unacceptable ... to them as well as the fans.

“None of the guys in the locker room play for moral victories, we’re playing to get wins every game. So it was tough to put in that effort and come up short,” said a disappointed Spencer Dinwiddie.

Moral victories are a bit more acceptable when you come back from a 28-point deficit against the Golden State Warriors. Still, nobody is happy when there’s a winnable game on the line and it’s squandered in the final moments. It exposes who and what the Nets are: a young group with a lot to learn.

“I think that’s the hardest thing to do in the NBA, you know, is to close games. We saw it the other night in Cleveland, play really well for three quarters. There are great players on these other teams that are determined not to let you win and I think that was a little bit the case tonight,” Atkinson said after the loss, particularly Damian Lillard who put up 34 for Portland.

It goes back to Brooklyn’s inexperience in closing games out. Instead of dwelling on it, Atkinson will use it as another learning lesson.

“They really relied on their experience, but it’s also a positive experience for us. We can look at this, we can say ‘how can we close out games, what can we do better, how can we execute better, what can we do defensively differently to close out games?’ So that’s on all of us, the coaching staff too, not just the players. So that’s a good point, closing games is a next step for us.”

You can sense the disappointment in post-game interviews. They’re 6-12 on the season and have lost seven games by eight points or less. Now it’s about how they respond.

“At some point I think it will turn the way we want it to go,” said Allen Crabbe. “It’s still early, it’s not like we are getting blown out. We are having chances to win, it’s just about closing it out. I feel like with the experience we have we will turn it around.”

The veteran DeMarre Carroll said the Nets need a win to get beyond all this.

“Until we get it we’re going to have days like this — a sad locker room like this,” Carroll said. “They understood the nature of the game, the dynamic of the game and they went and got it. We really didn’t understand. We made 3 or 4 bonehead plays down the stretch that you can’t make when you’re trying to beat a good team. … If we cut out two of those we come out with the win.”

And there’s still no timetable on D’Angelo Russell’s return.