The Nets held their first playoff practice Tuesday, the first step in their highly anticipated chase for their highly elusive first championship.
Their first practice was a unique one compared to previous years. Brooklyn doesn’t yet know who they’ll face in the first round. So rather than focus on whether Boston or Washington will be their opening-round opponent, the team utilized their first practice to focus instead on themselves.
“We went over our stuff. Things to clean up defensively, things to clean up offensively, and then tomorrow we’ll get a little more live-action so the guys can get some rhythm and continue to stay sharp to stay in shape” said Steve Nash of Tuesday’s practice. “Probably another live practice Thursday and we’ll incorporate the scouting report and game plan in between Wednesday and Friday. For us, it made sense to worry about ourselves today until we know who we’re playing.”
The best part of their practice was the team had all but one player participate in different variations. Only Joe Harris — who missed the Nets’ final three regular-season games with a left gluteal strain — didn’t go full speed but he’s expected to be ready for Game 1 of the first round.
“We expect Joe to be ready for the weekend. When he practices and how much he practices is to be determined, but I think he’s feeling better and looking better,” said Nash on Harris, once again the NBA’s 3-point shooting champ. “He went through a very light half-speed practice and did his shooting today. So all signs there are good. Everyone else participated as well.”
The Nets head coach said his coaching staff didn’t touch on the Wizards or Celtics — the two teams that play Tuesday night for the chance to face Brooklyn in the opening round. The coaching staff wants instead to wait for the outcome of Tuesday’s play-in game before turning that corner.
“We didn’t touch on it,” said Nash on playing Washington or Boston in the first round. “We went over all of our stuff today and we’ll wait to see who we play and start to prepare for that team. We have a lot of info on both teams, but we won’t present that to the players before we know who that is.”
Predictably, Nash said he has no specific preference between Washington and Boston, referring to both clubs as dangerous teams they’ll need to prepare for.
“Nope. They are both really capable dangerous teams and we have to be ready no matter who we play,” said Nash of the Wizards and Celtics. “They’ll cause slightly different problems but both capable and talented groups, so we’ll be ready and motivated no matter who we play.”
“You got two good teams that are going to battle to try and get that seven seed. Washington has played well the last 20 or so games and put themselves in a good position for the playoffs. Boston is a team that’s been good. They battled with some injuries but they’re going to go out there and battle. It’s going to be a good game,” said Jeff Green on Washington-Boston play-in match-up.
“We’ll be prepared when the time comes and I know the opposing team will as well. I might check it out, give it a glance and see who we end up playing in the first round, so ill be prepared and try to visualize what the assignment might be.”
Kyrie Irving — who played with the Celtics for two seasons (2017-19) before joining Brooklyn — says he is on the same page. If Boston prevails in the play-in, it will mark the first time the Nets guard gets to play in front of the TD Garden crowd since unceremoniously departing and signing with his hometown squad.
“It doesn’t matter to me. I’m so far past match-ups and all that. It’s just about who is going to prepare better and who is going to execute out there,” said Irving. “It doesn’t matter. I’ve played in Boston plenty of times before I got traded there. Played against Brad [Beal] and Russ [Westbrook] plenty of times. It just makes the competition level raise. Either way, it doesn’t matter to me.”
Irving also got a bit philosophical about his career at one point. Asked if he thinks about how much longer he wants to play, Irving replied, “doesn’t everybody?” and “it’s always a thought,”
“Now that we’re here and we’ve got the guys that we have in this locker room and we’ve been through quite a journey, we just want to enjoy the ride,” Irving said after practice. “That’s really all I can say. I just want to enjoy it as if it’s my last.”
The practice was filled with high energy with the concentrated focus on different lineup variations and what each grouping can accomplish.
“The energy is high. I think we’re all excited to have everybody healthy,” said Green on the Nets’ first playoff practice. “We’re excited about the playoffs. We used today as a time to get together, build chemistry, understanding different lineups, and what we’re trying to accomplish,” “Tonight we’ll watch and it’s a long week, so we got a lot of time to prepare. I think it’s about us getting on the same page and focus on things we can accomplish with the different lineups we have and go from there.”
Nash didn’t hide the plan for the remainder of the week. It will consist of some live-action practices mixed in with scouting on their first-round opponent.
“We have a plan in place for this week. Today was the first day and we have a plan in place for Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and a contingent plan if we play Sunday. Our week is pretty locked and loaded,” said Nash on the preparation week. “We look forward to seeing who we play and continue to prepare.”
A big emphasis on Brooklyn’s preparation week will be building chemistry — a task Nash called “really important.” Although the Nets head coach said their week will be loaded, he doesn’t plan on having his players get a lot of repetitions on the practice court. Health remains the top priority.
“I think it’s really important. We would think two of our best lineups haven’t played together. Kai, Kevin, James, Joe have just recently played with Blake and Nic. That is our kind of gap that we need to close that is where this week can help us iron out some of those things,” said Nash on forming chemistry.
“We’re not going to get a ton of reps this week. We also want our team to recover from what was a really crazy season and a lot of guys coming out of injuries, but we want to get some reps and spend the time cleaning up what we do and having a deeper understanding now that we finally have near full availability.”
Aside from forming and touching up chemistry, Brooklyn is banking on their veteran leadership to navigate the ship. The Nets head coach wants each and every one of his 17 players to serve as a leader in different areas where they hold value.
“We rely on everyone in their own way. You can make the case that the big picture is everyone is a leader and everyone has to approach and lead in their example. I would say that James [Harden] is our floor general, but Kevin is in many ways our guy that’s been there and done that winning two championships and being the go-to guy on those teams,” said Nash on leadership in the postseason.
“Sometimes that leadership comes in different forms, different roles, different personalities; everyone should act as a leader. At the same time, our three stars are going to take a bulk of the leadership and some of our vets are invaluable — Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, Jeff Green — their experience and intelligence is so valuable for our group.”
Irving’s plan for the week is simple. He stressed rest as a key aspect in the Nets week and the end goal being to have everyone healthy for Game 1 on Saturday, May 22.
“Just get as much rest as possible and prepare to play at a high level. That’s really it,” said Irving on how he plans to use his playoff preparation. “It’s kind of simple just because we’ve had to be flexible this whole year, so it’s incomparable to a lot of other years. I’m just grateful we have a chance to all play together and I just want all of us to stay healthy throughout this journey no matter what.”
The Wizards and Celtics play-in tournament game is scheduled to tip at 9:00 PM ET. The game will be nationally televised on TNT.
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