The playoffs are slowly inching closer and Steve Nash and the Nets have taken advantage of the extended practice time to prepare for the Celtics with a hungry mentality.
“Our mentality is that we’re hungry. We’ve had some unbelievable practices,” Blake Griffin said. “Guys are locked in and focused at a high level.”
While Brooklyn is approaching the postseason like a new season, the rotation will need to be trimmed down, a function of the team’s improving health. Teams in the playoffs usually cut their rotations down to a minimum of eight players and a maximum of 10. Nash hasn’t decided on the rotation size but is leaning towards a nine-to-10 man rotation while mentioning that substitutions will be made based on the flow of each specific contest.
“You can pencil in nine or maybe 10, but you never know. We probably start at nine and if we need 10, we go to 10. It’s all dependent on how the game goes,” said Nash on the size of the playoff rotation. “What happens from moment to moment, game to game, and what we need. You don’t want the idea to go in playing too many guys, but you also want to use as many guys as possible to make sure there’s an opportunity for the guys not to play so many minutes start to finish.”
While the guard and forward positions are set and filled with superstars, the center rotation will remain the same, with each player at the 5 getting his opportunities in the postseason. Nash has adjusted his 5 rotation around matchups throughout the second half of the regular season.
“It’s not going to be that much different than what it’s been recently. They’re all going to share minutes. We got Blake, Nic, Jeff Green, and certain matchups sometimes we got DJ as well, so they’ll all get their opportunities,” said Nash on the center rotation in the postseason.
Brooklyn may very well have their hands full with Tristian Thompson; a player who has made his living with his physicality and efforts on and around the glass.
“He’s definitely a menace on the offensive glass. I think he had 12 offensive rebounds against us one game, so the point of emphasis has been to keep him off the glass and not let him affect the game with his energy,” said Nicolas Claxton of Thompson. “It’s got to be physical and we have that mindset going into the game.”
The Nets will need to gang rebound in order to limit Thompson and Boston’s overall offensive rebounding efforts, which also includes Robert Williams as well as trim the amount of second-chance opportunities — a category that has hurt Brooklyn throughout the regular season.
“It’s going to be a team effort to keep someone that averages that many offensive rebounds and have done it for a long time,” said Griffin on the battle on the offensive glass against Thompson and Williams. “You have to match his physicality and his energy. Everybody has to come back in and rebound. We arent the best rebounding team but by committee, we can be. Sitting down getting stops then finishing those stops whether rebound and not giving them extra shots is huge.”
Out of the Nets center rotation, DeAndre Jordan remains the big question mark. having not played since May 8th against Denver — logging five minutes — and finishing the regular season with five DNP’s in the last six games, seven in the last 12. Thompson, who is a player who doesn’t stretch outside the perimeter and isn’t a shooting threat, could pose as a “possible” matchup for Jordan, said Nash.
“It’s possible. He is a priority. His offensive rebounding is elite, so is [Robert] Williams. It is a key for us to limit their offensive rebounds,” Nash said.
Claxton missed the Nets 2019-20 postseason in the Orlando “bubble” with injury. The Nets 22-year-old big will provide a unique profile to Brooklyn in their postseason run, but mistakes will come with the inexperience — something Nash is not concerned with due to his supporting talent.
“He’s really a rookie, so him going into the postseason with high expectations is not easy. At the same time with Nic, if he plays hard and uses his length, athleticism, and activity, we can allow him to make some mistakes,” said Nash on Claxton. “Our team should be good enough to allow him to make some inexperienced plays and still have an impact on his game because of profile.
“A guy that plays that hard and is that long and athletic, he can do a lot of things and help our teams in a lot of ways and I think we can suffer some mistakes out of him due to inexperience because of his skillset. It’s something you have to monitor as with every player and performances are constantly in flux and you try to judge who deserves the minutes or who is right for that matchup or moment.”
Claxton says he’s looking forward to the next chapter of the season and is glad to get some extended practice time with his teammates in preparation for the Celtics.
“I’m definitely looking forward to it. I’m excited and the practice has been good. I feel like it’s our first time actually be able to practice all year,” Claxton said. “It’s been good being able to practice and go over Boston and go through our philosophies and see how the Brooklyn Nets want to play, getting everybody together and get some quality time on the court.”
The postseason often “finds” players, particularly the unsung and/or young, who rise to the occasion. It seems there’s always some player who emerges at just the right time. Last year, for example, it was the Heat’s Tyler Herro. Could Claxton provide that spark this post-season? He will be going up against a list of physically talented big men starting with the 250-lb+ Thompson.
Griffin, who has had his fair share of physical play down low in the postseason, said he spoke to Claxton Thursday and discussed the level of physicality the playoffs hold and how it’ll intensify as the contests proceed from one game to another, one series to another.
“I actually told him today just physicality. He’s a great defender, super talented already and a good player already, so just having not played in these situations, that was just my message to him,” Griffin said. “We were going through something and I was like ‘man, every single possession is going to be a little bit more physical, especially down the stretch.’ Just a lot more physical and the deeper you go, the more physical. That’s just my message to him, but he’s already in a good position.”
While Claxton is undersized physically compared to most big men in the league, his confidence in himself has always helped him gain an edge over others. The 22-year-old says he’s ready for the postseason physicality.
“That’s pretty much what people have been saying. The intensity level is going to be up, but I’m with all the smoke so I’m ready. I’m excited, ready for whatever and that’s going to bring the best out of me,” Claxton said.
Joe Harris to be ready for Game 1
Joe Harris — who missed the Nets' final three regular-season games and has been going half-speed in the opening playoff practices — said he expects to be ready for Game 1 against the Celtics on Saturday.
“I feel fine, to be honest, and I’m ready to go come Game 1. Everybody else within the organization would echo the same,” Harris said. “It’s kind of an unusual injury. It wasn’t even painful by any means. It was just one of those things where I had a level of weakness in the hip and the glute area. I’m pretty close to 100 percent right now.”
The league’s top 3-point shooter again this season added that he’s slowly integrated himself back into normal practices. He said he had a full practice on Thursday.
“I have slowly started to get back integrated into stuff. It’s been nice to have a full week of practice where we’re able to get up and down a little bit,” Harris said. “Mine has been a little of moderation, but I’m gradually doing more stuff every day and had a full practice today.”
That leavers only two Nets on the injury report: Spencer Dinwiddie who will miss his 70th game on Saturday and Chris Chiozza who is not that far behind Harris.
Marks praises Nash
Meanwhile, in an interview with Chris Carrino and Tim Capstraw of Nets Radio, Sean Marks had high praise for his head coach.
“He’s the right guy for the job. His humility, his poise. I’ve learned a lot from watching him and how he conducts himself. He’s a great collaborator with how we’ve tried to build this over the last five years.”
- Even the Celtics Think the Nets Will Probably Win - Jonathan Abrams - New York Times
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- Nets’ DeAndre Jordan is key in series against Celtics (and beyond) - Kristian Winfield - New York Daily News
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