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Can Nets improve on defense? They’ll have to if they plan on winning it all

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Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets - Game Three Photo by Kim Klement - Pool/Getty Images

All the fan talk has been about the Nets offense since the team hired Steve Nash as head coach and Mike D’Antoni as an assistant ... and offensive coordinator. There’s been talk about getting the offense in gear and ready to shoot within the first quarter of the 24-second clock. SIX seconds or less?

But the Nets are trying to improve their defense as well. In addition to his lead assistant duties, Jacque Vaughn will be his defensive coordinator, Steve Nash has said. The Nets also have two new assistants who like Vaughn extended their NBA careers by playing good D: Ime Udoka, who came from the 76ers, and Royal Ivey, who came from the Knicks.

The Nets were not that bad last season on defense, finishing 10th in regular season rankings. (We’re not going to talk just now about their D held up against Toronto in the playoffs where the Raptors averaged 126.3 points over four games, finishing with a 150-122 clincher. The Nets were dead last in the post-season.)

As Brian Lewis notes Sunday, defense does indeed win championships and that’s what the Nets see as their goal this season...

The top three teams in the league last season in defensive rating also finished with the top three records, including the champion Lakers. The top five ended up either in the top three seeds in the East or top two in the West.

And the Nets respectable 10th place ranking came under a different coach and a very different roster. Of the 20 players in training camp, only eight were active after the pandemic hiatus.

Also, Nash has said defense will be a priority every time a mic has been shoved in his face or pinned to his practice gear.

“We realize that we’re trying to compete for a championship, and we have to be excellent defensively,” Nash said earlier this week. “It’s going to be a process.”

He also spoke about how he appreciated what Vaughn did in the “bubble” and before the NBA went on hiatus, the two have been watching a lot of tape, as Lewis reported.

“The defense last year changed in the bubble. Jacque started to put his imprints and adjustments into the defense in the bubble,” Nash said. “I think that many of them were similarly aligned with the way I see things, so we’ve had a really enjoyable process going through the film and looking around the league and figuring out what suits our team and the game the way it’s played nowadays.”

The Nets didn’t do as well in the “bubble” seedng games as they had just before the league shut down, perhaps because of their massive roster turnover. Of the 22 teams who participated in Orlando, the Nets finished 18th .. and that doesn’t include their disastrous showing on D in the playoffs Nash noted the roster changes.

“There will be some commonality with the roster, and there will also be some differences and adjustments. But I think JV’s adjustments in the bubble were going toward where we’ve landed with it, and at the same time, it is a work in progress. It’s something we’re going to build all year.”

There were be plusses defensively with the new roster. Kevin Durant, with his 7’6” wingspan, has always been a plus defender. Jarrett Allen has improved his defense every year and DeAndre Jordan remains one of the NBA’s strongest defenders in the paint. And as Caris LeVert mentioned, newly acquired Bruce Brown is a “lockdown defender.” As our Matt Brooks tweeted last week, LeVert would know.

“Bruce Brown forced Caris, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Kyrie Irving into combined 12/31 shooting last season. That’s three high-powered guards with completely different builds and skillsets. Pretty impressive.”

Perhaps Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot will get more burn. As Lewis wrote, TLC’s competition for 3-and-D minutes — Taurean Prince and Rodions Kurucs — were annoyingly inconsistent last season. TLC (whose contract is still only partially guaranteed) sees an opportunity.

“Get better in defense, stay ready, stay focused every single day get better on defense, be ready to guard the best guys across the basket — and that’s what I’m gonna do,” Luwawu-Cabarrot said. “We haven’t talked much about what’s going to happen in the upcoming season, but he did talk about that.

“I’m just trying to fit in and bring all the energy I can bring. I know I can help this team win. I think I’m pretty different than everybody else on this team. I run, I play defense, I can knock down shots, and I think I’ve got a good opportunity with this team, and I think I can help. I can be next to those [stars] and compete.”

All of that would be appreciated.