The Brooklyn Nets are battling for their playoff lives with 11 games remaining in the regular season. Following a three-game losing streak, Brooklyn’s lead on the Miami Heat for sixth place in the East has been whittled down to one game. And one area that plagued the Nets early this year has carried over to a revamped roster following the trades of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving: rebounding.

In 16 games, the new-look Nets are allowing the ninth most offensive rebounds in the league, a weakness head coach Jacque Vaughn said opponents are circling on their scouting reports.

“We have to accept it. It’s the truth,” the coach said following Brooklyn’s loss Sunday. “It’s staring us in the face. The scouting report says to try to go offensive rebound vs. the Nets, and we have to understand that and do a diligent job of continuing to try and do it together. We can’t do it with two people, with three people. We show clips at halftime where literally we need all five people to come back and get a piece of somebody.”

Vaughn’s squad allowed 27 total offensive rebounds in losses to Oklahoma City and Sacramento last week while mustering just 14 of their own. Among the clips the head coach has shown at halftime was this Domantas Sabonis putback:

Vaughn identified Cam Johnson and Seth Curry’s failure to put a body on Sabonis as Nic Claxton alters De’Aaron Fox’s layup:

“Cam and Seth both have to come and hit Sabonis. It’s just that simple,” he said. “You’ve gotta be able to give your body up and have contact.”

That lack of initiative among the players surrounding Claxton has been common this season, something the big man said must change following the loss to the Kings.

“I think all five guys need to do a better job of participating,” Claxton said. “We all gotta make sure we’re hitting somebody. It can’t just be two guys. It needs to be a five-man effort.

Bruising centers like Sabonis are the players who have given the Nets the most trouble this season. Brooklyn faced another in reigning MVP Nikola Jokic Sunday. They were able to take a small step in a loss, winning the offensive rebounding battle 9-6 after allowing 15 to the Nuggets a week prior.

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The Nets are playing without a center in the rotation behind Claxton with Day’Ron Sharpe struggling to fill that role in his second NBA season. Brooklyn recently let Nerlens Noel walk after his 10-day contract expired and brought in 7’2″ big man Moses Brown. However, neither backup big projects to play a significant role in the playoffs.

The Nets will instead rely on small-ball lineups with Dorian Finney-Smith or Royce O’Neale at the five. And following their third straight loss Sunday, O’Neale said Brooklyn’s roster hole only accentuates their need for a collective effort on the glass:

“I know we’re capable of doing it,” he said. “Just everybody paying a little more attention to detail and helping Nic out, especially when we go small and me or Dorian is at the five. We all got to gang rebound.”

However, for a team that hopes to play at a fast pace and attempt 40-plus threes per game, that gang rebounding does not come without a price. It means fewer players running the floor and limited fastbreak opportunities, a reality Vaughn acknowledged following Sunday’s loss.

“We had zero fast break points in the first half,” he said. “So we did try to sacrifice that and bring guys back and try to hit, and if we couldn’t get out on the break then that sort of is part of it. We’re trying to be systematic in how we approach this problem. But I just want our guys to embrace it and realize that it is really a big difference to us being a pretty good defensive team.”
The Nets had zero fastbreak points the entire game during their loss to Sacramento.
Brooklyn’s rebounding will be put to the test during an upcoming four-game stretch. Vaughn’s squad will host the Cleveland Cavaliers, who boast the “twin towers” frontcourt of Evan Mobley (6’11”) and Jarrett Allen (6’9″), for back-to-back home matchups. They will then travel for a critical meeting with Bam Adebayo and the Heat Saturday before meeting an Orlando Magic team with three starters 6’10” or taller on a back-to-back.