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Atkinson talks defense, Crabbe’s return pre-game

Los Angeles Clippers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

A big part of the Brooklyn Nets win over the Dallas Mavericks Saturday was their fourth quarter, where they limited Dirk Nowitzki and his crew to 17 points in the final 12 minutes.

But if it wasn’t for allowing 65 points in the previous 24 minutes (two quarters), the Nets might not have needed such a strong defensive effort in the fourth, when they entered trailing 89-88.

Ahead of their match-up tonight against the Memphis Grizzles, defense is an obvious focus for Kenny Atkinson and the team, but It appears more so than usual given his pre-game commentary.

“We need to defend better, I think that’s the message,” he said.“Showed a lot of clips today of good defensive plays we made. The 17-point fourth quarter, our defensive execution’s got to step up. (It’s been) subpar of late. It’s an improvement area for us and we’ve got to do it again today.”

What’s hurting the Nets exactly? Dribble penetration. Atkinson says the team’s been giving up too many drives, which have broken down the Nets a lot as of late, which has been a main contributor to Brooklyn’s 3-15 record dating back to the start of February.

“If you don’t contain the drives … if you don’t keep guys out of the paint, then it’s tough,” he said. “So we’re emphasizing just better individual defense and individual pride.

“I think lately we’ve been broken down a little too much, I think that’s got to improve,” he later added. “The way today’s game is played, that can be our bigs on the perimeter, too – we’re in switch situations, we switch late a lot so now our bigs have got to sit down and guard an agile ball-handler. Definite improvement area for us all-around.”

Speaking of bigs, Jahlil Okafor is, you know, around, and actually played six minutes against the Mavs. Regarding minutes for Okafor tonight, Atkinson says it depends on the vibes … and mentions that they also have Dante Cunningham, who is back, as is Allen Crabbe, who will start ahead of Joe Harris.

“We’ll read it; we’ll feel it. Obviously we’ve got Dante Cunningham in that mix, too,” he said. “So he can play the five and the four as well. It’s a good problem to have because now we’re healthy and we’re getting Dante, who has played really well for us. It’s a battle for minutes; I think a lot of it is in-game match-ups and how you’re performing and we see from there. So sure, he (Okafor) could have an opportunity, but you’ve got to take advantage of your minutes and he’s done a pretty good job.”