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Preseason Game 2 takeaway: Nets and Ben Simmons will need those final two preseason games

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Miami Heat v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Early on in preseason, Steve Nash made it clear that it can look “ugly” at times with his new players learning how to play with each other. It was “ugly” against the Heat Thursday night.

The Nets looked like a new team with little to no continuity. For the second straight game, there was a surplus of woes on the defensive end as well as just plain sloppiness on both ends. The second preseason game ended with a 29-point defeat to the Heat and it’s clear Brooklyn will need to utilize these final two preseason games vs. the Bucks and Timberwolves to get things straight before the games start to matter in less than two weeks.

“We know they come out and play physical. They’re going to get into you and we allowed them to win that battle,” said Nash following the preseason loss to the Heat. “All those little battles: space, time, poise, screening, not screening, getting cut, no vision, not boxing out, not getting loose balls, and you can go down the list. It starts with the mentality and they showed it. We got to try to match that going forward.”

Moreover, there isn’t a bigger player on the Nets who needs those final two preseason games more than Ben Simmons. The former All-Star understandably had trouble timing his passes throughout the contest — he’s new to the Nets personnel and he hasn’t played in more than a year. He coughed up six turnovers in the loss.

“Get them out of the way now man,” said Simmons on his six turnovers. “Gotta get them out now so that’’s something that I can be conscious of to fix. I’m not too worried about that. I mean it’s the second game back in like a year, so.”

He also took on a pass-first strategy throughout the contest, maybe even to an extreme, and ended with only four points on three shots in his 25 minutes. Simmons was aggressive on the boards, snagging 10 rebounds, but he was only able to successfully dish four assists in his Thursday night shift.

“There’s a lot we need to build and grow on, obviously defensively and offensively I think right now we trying to just figure it out,” Simmons said. “Defensively we don’t really have too many schemes going right now, so I think we’re just out there playing a lot and just trying to move the ball, play their pace, and kind of get a feel for everyone’s game.”

Kevin Durant manned a heavy scoring load in Brooklyn’s loss. The star recorded 22 points on an efficient 8-of-12 shooting from the field and 1-of-4 shooting from 3-point range (5-of-7 from the foul line) to total 22 points in his 26-minute showing. Outside of Durant, there wasn’t much scoring.

“I didn’t like anything, to be honest. I like that we came out of the game healthy,” Durant said. “Every game, you’re going to have good spurts and bad spurts. You’re going to have runs. As long as you play good or bad, just consistency. We want to keep building on that and keep getting better at that. We had some good stretches and some bad stretches. I think that’s a part of the preseason.”

Markieff Morris had a strong showing with 10 points and six boards in 15 minutes off the bench. At game’s end, Cam Thomas does what Cam Thomas does, scoring in bunches to finish with 13 points in 20 minutes.

“Tonight Kieff just played hard,” said Nash on Morris’ performance off the bench. “Tried to get in there and b physical and get offensive rebounds. He can stretch the floor and make threes. A veteran who knows how to play. The biggest role that Kieff can play for us this year is to be a leader and teach these guys how to compete and push them to higher standards.”

Brooklyn came out of the gates with a night-and-day difference defensively when compared to Monday. Indeed, they got off to a good start on both ends of the floor, sparked by a string of defensive plays by Simmons. In one, the Nets star intercepted a pass on the wing, taking it down the court for an uncontested slam. The Nets held the Heat scoreless from 3-point range (0-of-3) through the first five minutes of play, forging a 12-6 lead.

At the tail end of the first, the offense simmered down for both teams. Although Morris kept the Nets within striking distance — with four points and a drawn charge with the second unit — Simmons was passive, primarily looking to slice passes to his teammates along the perimeter and near the basket. Miami fully anticipated the strategy, cutting off the passing lanes and forcing three quick turnovers, leaving him without a single assist in his 10-minute stint in the first. At the end of one, Brooklyn trailed 25-18 with Durant leading the Nets with a team-high five points in nine minutes.

“I think he’s going to grow in that respect,” said Nash on Simmons being more aggressive to score. “I think he’s going to get more attempts. Right now, obviously, it’s a little clunky for us. We’re missing some guys tonight that space the floor, put pressure on the defense, they can load up, and do some of those things. Ben will be fine. He’ll improve. He’ll get better every night and he’s going to be an engine for us and be a big part to what we do. I’m not normally worried about him but it is a process. He hasn’t played for a long time. He’s also getting associated to a new group. That takes time. It’s not going to be perfect and it probably won’t be anytime soon. If we can keep improving every day, that’s all we ask for.”

It got ugly in the second. And the it, once again, stemmed from their defensive struggles. Miami’s second unit gained the upper hand against a Nets lineup with both Durant and Simmons on the floor. The ball movement on Brooklyn’s end simply couldn’t find a flow, hurt by the Heat’s effort to double-team Durant.

On the other end, Miami picked apart the Nets on the defense, often capitalizing off Brooklyn miscues. The outdueling expanded Miami’s lead to 15 midway through the second frame. Brooklyn never could put together clean sequences on either end to find momentum, hitting the halftime break trailing 61-43 — the largest deficit of the first half.

Both Simmons and Durant started for Brooklyn in the third quarter. The Nets offense was all Durant but Miami maintained a 20-point lead, cashing in on the Nets overall sloppiness that ultimately produced 26 turnovers to the Heat’s 11. The Heat ballooned their lead to 30 points and after the third concluded, it was the end of the night for Brooklyn’s two stars.

A lineup of Thomas, Chris Chiozza, David Duke Jr., Yuta Watanabe, and Day’Ron Sharpe played the majority of the fourth. The young lineup couldn’t crack a dent in the double-digit deficit when it was all said and done.

“Yeah, we’re giving everyone different looks and different substitution patterns right now just so everyone gets a shot in preseason,” said Nash on the lineups in the fourth.

Joe Tsai courtside

Joe Tsai sat courtside Thursday, took in the whole debacle. He was also in the building Monday vs. the 76ers but after visiting with players in pre-game warm-ups, he took in the contest from Suite 888 above halfcourt. (The number 8 is believed to be the luckiest number in China because ‘8’ is associated with wealth.)

Tsai is also in town for the opening Saturday of the Wu Tsai Theater at Lincoln Center. Joe and Clara Wu Tsai are being honored for their $50 million gift to the New York Philharmonic during the pandemic. The Philharmonic performs in the space, the main one at the renovated David Geffen Hall (formerly Avery Fisher Hall).

And for the second night this week, halftime was the scene of, well, some scenes from the Ronny Chieng series based on the Nets. Chieng’s character is based loosely on Tsai. No word when the Hulu show will debut.

Harris, Irving sit

Joe Harris sat out the game as the Nets want to be conservative in his recovery and rehab following two ankle surgeries. Kyrie Irving who welcomed his second child on Wednesday was also rested. Both were at the game as was Seth Curry who is also recovering from ankle surgery. Steve Nash has said they hope to bring Curry back by the Nets fourth and last preseason game vs. the Timberwolves. The three are the team’s best 3-point shooters by percentage and with the Nets shooting 17.9 percent from deep, 5-of-28, tonight, they were sorely missed.

KD on Wemby

With so many fans, media types — and NBA execs — comparing Victor Wembanyama, the French 7’4” prospect, to Kevin Durant, who better to ask about the kid than KD himself. He admits to being impressed.

“That type of talent and skill, it just puts a smile on your face if you play basketball. The evolution of the game has taken us this far. Where we got a 7’5” dude that’s able to do everything on the court. It’s inspiring to a lot of people. I heard a comment he said; somebody compared him to a few players in the league and he was like ‘I think I’d do myself a disservice if I compared myself to one or two players. I’m going to take from everybody.’

“That’s such a profound statement and made me a big fan of his,” said the 16-year veteran. “The league is really in trouble when he comes in. I want to see how it plays out. Everybody has been excited about his arrival to the league so we’ll see what happens.”

Over the past three days, Wembanyama who plays for the Metropolitans 92 in the French Serie A, has wowed everyone by showing some very Durant-like skills in two exhibition games in Las Vegas vs. the G League Ignite stars. In the two games, he scored 37 and 36, using a wide variety of moves and hitting difficult shots while blocking everything in sight with his near 8-foot wingspan.

He is big box office, as Woj noted.

“Drafting Wembanyama might add as much as $500 million to the value of your franchise,” Woj said on ESPN. “At 7’4 he is so advanced skill-wise, there has just never been anyone like him.”

Okay, could the Nets get him? Don’t get excited. The chances are so tiny as to not even think of them. Here goes: The Nets went into the off-season with two first rounders in 2023, their own and the 76ers pick. Then, on June 30, they traded the worse of the two picks to Utah for Royce O’Neale. The better pick will be retained by the Nets. So, IF, IF, IF, the 76ers had a nightmare season and fell into the lottery, the Nets would then have to win the lottery.

Could the Nets themselves tank and get him? Nope. The Nets would have to swap picks this season with the Rockets. Surely, there are more permutations out there, but that’s the basic situation as we understand it. So, don’t bet on it.

Nets sign Noah Kirkwood, back up to 20

Shortly after the Heat game ended, the Nets quietly announced they had signed Noah Kirkwood, the 6’7” Harvard shooting guard, apparently to an Exhibit 10 deal. Kirkwood brings the Nets roster back up to 20. There’s no need to cut anyone until October 17 when rosters have to drop down to 17 — 15 standard deals and two two-ways.

Kirkwood, like the four other Nets signed to Exhibit 10 deals, is ultimately destined for Long Island. RaiQuan Gray, who played in the preseason opener vs. Philly, remains on the roster. In the past three weeks, the Nets have signed and waived Marcus Zegarowski, Kaiser Gates and Brandon Rachal, who like Gray have played for Long Island in the past.

Kirkwood played for the Nets Summer League team. We profiled him and the Harvard connection back then.

What’s next

NBA: Preseason-Memphis Grizzlies at Milwaukee Bucks Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets will play the third of their four-game preseason slate against the Bucks in Milwaukee on Wednesday, October 12. The preseason contest is scheduled to tip at 7:30 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Thursday’s preseason game against Miami, check out Hot Hot Hoops — our sister site covering the Heat.