It took a little while for the team to get moving — and the Wiz Kids do not represent much of a challenge. However, the team still did what playoff teams should do to lottery-bound ones. That hasn’t always been the case with the Nets this year, yes I’m still thinking about that Charlotte game, but we’ll get to that later.
Brooklyn now boasts a 12-9 record having won five of their last six contests. Before a stronger test comes around the corner by way of a week-long Western Conference road trip, here’s three things to take away from the victory.
Defense is Here?
The Nets defense has had fans waiting like guests at a surprise birthday party this year. With so many names on the roster associated with the defensive side of the ball, seeing lock down possessions after possessions is what everyone’s been holding out for.
However, this person you’re throwing the party for is late, as the Nets struggled defensively through their first 18 games this year. As a result, we’ve all been crouched down in our hiding spots for bit longer than comfort would prefer. Everyone’s anxiously staring at the door and people are starting to whisper “is this guy even gonna show?”
But over the last three games, including last night, the defense has arrived and we all got to jump up and celebrate. The Nets held the Wizards outside triple digit territory and even forced a sub-20% shooting night from deep.
Granted, Brooklyn played the Wizards, who are not exactly the epitome of basketball right now. But even by their standard, the Nets brought the hammer down, with Brooklyn forcing the Wizards into their second lowest scoring output this year.
That’s the second time the Nets have done that to a team in the past three games, holding the once red-hot Orlando Magic to 101 points last weekend. They also forced the always dangerous Atlanta Hawks to a bottom-five scoring night as well the game before this one.
Brooklyn’s mixed looks between the switch late in games, the drop, and even Jacque Vaughn sprinkling in some zone deserves a pat on the back in getting Brooklyn to this point. There’s also been a noticeable boost in energy since the Charlotte game, which saw the Nets play with anything but defensive pride.
Valuing moral victories is for losers. I’ll always believe that. But the turn around following that loss to the Hornets remains impossible to ignore. Whether or not that’s what lit this fire under the Nets, we have a raging inferno at the defense end right now and its been fun to watch.
Rags to Riches at Center
The Brooklyn Nets and the center position never got along during the 7/11 era. Jarrett Allen left and became an All-Star after only getting a taste of it. DeAndre Jordan became unplayable after two and half years. Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge, and Andre Drummond offered mixed results while a young Nic Claxton struggled to get his bearings under him until last year, then was out early this season.
With a revolving door present in the paint for Brooklyn, the team felt destined to struggle on the boards, surrender second chance points, and stay allergic to any kind of scoring down low until hell froze over. But last night, they came to town with bushels of of dry ice and snow machines.
The Nets dominated down low, and while they’ve found success via the five with Claxton over the past year and quarter now, Brooklyn’s outing vs the Wizards illustrated the team’s over encompassing strength at the position like never before.
Claxton led the way with a complete performance, finishing with 13 points, two blocks, and a season-high 15 rebounds. Day’Ron Sharpe followed closely with another performance to suggest he’s making that third year leap, coming up with 15 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, a block, and a steal.
Even Harry Giles III got in on the action. The revived Duke product made the most of his four minutes on the floor, reeling in eight points on 4-of-8 shooting. One of his buckets even came on one of Sharpe’s assists. He also contributed with two boards and a blocked shot.
Day'Ron Sharpe with a laser off the short roll to hit Harry Giles for a dunk. This game has it all! pic.twitter.com/HgwnuueFRR— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) December 9, 2023
Catching lobs, scoring one-on-one, and cleaning up the offensive glass, Brooklyn’s bigs helped the team finish with 76 points in the paint, falling just a bucket shy of tying a franchise record. They also won on the boards by a 55-41 advantage, notching their sixth game this year with a double-digit win in that department after only doing so three times all of last year.
With an emphasis on floor spacing and defensive versatility, the five is basketball’s least appreciated position right now. But with the Nets scraping at the bottom of the barrel at center in the past few years, last night’s effort was like a tall glass of ice water. That’s something for fans to appreciate and resemble another win within last night’s win.
Passing with a Purpose
I’m starting to sound like one of my uncles here, but another shortcoming I see often in the modern game is overpassing. With such an emphasis on working for the right shot, players will sometimes pass up a good look in hopes to find a better one that sometimes never comes. All’s forgiven if the shot falls through the net, but when it leads to an empty possession, everyone in the building feels robbed.
But against Washington, and for a large part of the season, the Nets delivered last night. The team finished with 27 team assists, noticeably passing at the right moments and pulling the trigger when necessary.
Between Brooklyn’s coaching staff and players, there’s been a lot of chatter in the past calendar year about how difficult it’s been to get this team to gel. Three different teams were wielded together in a flash last season, depriving Brooklyn of fluidity and chemistry. Not to mention even one post-season win.
But with the ball hopping and the Nets playing off each other last night, you’ll find no better example of progress being made in that department. It wasn’t smooth from start to finish, but things looked crisp especially in the second half, as Brooklyn’s passing had the team looking like a well-oiled machine rather than a bunch of disconnected chunks of hardware.