It’s hard keeping up with Mikal Bridges these days. He had his own basketball camp at Basketball City, appeared at the NBPA camp as well. He was on Paul George’s podcast and showed up at Nike’s NYvsNY Monday, getting his picture snapped with Brooklyn streetball legend and former NBA player Lance Stephenson.
And his message has been the same wherever he’s been: be optimistic about the Nets chances. Brian Lewis who interviewed Bridges at his camp Saturday had more Tuesday about how he sees the 2023-24 season, starting with training camp that opens the first week of October. Camp, he said, will give the Nets their first opportunity since the deadline mega-deals to come together as a unit without the pressure of a game every other night.
“I think people don’t maybe account for that,” Bridges said when discussing how hard it was to mesh after those mega-deals at the deadline. “They can think ‘whatever,’ but that’s a big thing. And you don’t have training camp and no principles of everybody being on the same page. Everybody came from different principles and trying to mix it in there, and you’re playing in a game at a high level and you’ve been playing a certain way.
“Me and Cam [Johnson] have been playing a certain way for three years [in Phoenix] with coach Monty [Williams] there. And then Dorian [Finney-Smith] and Spencer [Dinwiddie] have been [in Dallas] for about a year-and-a-half. Do’ [Finney-Smith] had been there for a couple, a little bit longer than Spence was, so you have the [old muscle memory],” he told Lewis.
“It’s natural every single day. Maybe this coverage you always do this, and then you come to a different team in the game you go might go back as a habit. You’re going to go back to what you’ve been doing for a while, and you might do that. That’s exactly what it is. So it’s definitely tough.”
The Nets went 14-17 after Kyrie Irving’s final game on February 1, 12-15 after Bridges and Cam Johnson joined them on February 11. There were certainly positives over that stretch, like beating both NBA Finals teams on their home courts — Miami home and away — and seven 40-point games, four by Cam Thomas, three by Bridges. But there were also two blowout losses to the Knicks, two three-game losing streaks ... and no Ben Simmons after February 15.
“I think we just did a good job,” Bridges said. “I think our biggest thing was just trying to just get out, stay out of that play, and at the time we keep trying to get better. But it’s tough coming into the second half of the season. Teams have been together for that half and their teams locked in and they’re making this push for the playoffs, the secondary push.
“We were like preseason. We’re like trying to make that beginning push. So the team that’s all the way down here trying to make their way up with teams that have been here and trying to hit that second jump, we’re just trying to make our first jump. So it definitely was tough, but we did as good as we can, and we’re just getting ready for this year.”
As Lewis notes, breaking out in the East, even with a training camp, will be tough. The Bucks, Celtics, Cavaliers, 76ers, Heat and possibly even Knicks have pulled away from the pack. That would leave the Nets and Hawks battling to avoid going the play-in route. Of course, there’s a reason they play the games.
- Mikal Bridges sees Nets getting proper start as reason they will exceed expectations - Brian Lewis - New York Post