Through eight games so far, the Brooklyn Nets sit at 5-3, just 1.5 games out of first place in the East. Kevin Durant has played like an MVP. James Harden struggled out of the gates, but he's starting to regain that All-Star form. The team has spoken about the Kyrie Irving-sized void in their lineup.
It's an interesting thought exercise to ponder how the team's rotation or mindset might be different if Irving were simply out for a couple weeks with a sprained toe rather than out indefinitely due to vaccination status. Would we have seen different lineups, with the expectation he'd be back soon?
One thing coach Steve Nash has preached all season long has been striving towards “connectivity.” Speaking after the big win over Atlanta on Wednesday, Nash offered “a big part of it is finding that collective clarity, connectivity. And then a big part of it is just an underdog mentality.”
Nash has described defensive rebounds as the team's Achilles' heel; it's interesting because they rank fourth in the entire league in that category, racking up 38.6 boards per game. But when they've been hammered on the glass, (Miami's 62-42 edge in that category comes to mind) they've tended to lose. They're also mediocre in terms of defensive rebound percentage.
“We did give up 12 offensive rebounds,” Nash noted after the Atlanta game, “but they didn’t hurt us too much tonight … we got the big rebounds when it mattered.”
So what did it take to overcome that?
“I thought we moved the ball well. We didn’t hold on to it, we got to second action. Second sides. I thought that was really important, 34 assists, 14 turnovers, and we also got some stops and rebounds, got out and ran as well. Really good stuff in the third,” said the second-year coach.
The Nets set a season high for attempted (48) triples as well as made triples (22). The former point guard, famous for leading his Suns teams with a frenetic pace (Seven Seconds or Less) really liked the tempo his team played with.
“48 3s for us is a big improvement, so it was exciting to see us get up that many 3s. I thought a lot of it was with our ability to make quick decisions.”
Last season, the Nets only featured their Big Three for a small handful of games, yet they still ranked second overall in points per game. This season, playing with “pace” and “connectivity” and getting up lots of open 3s may be their antidote to getting outmuscled on the glass.
Brooklyn ranks 29th in field goal attempts per outing, as only the Philadelphia 76ers take less shots per contest. Durant and company get up 84.3 shots per game. They're going to need to increase that number if they want to overcome the edge they surrender on the glass.