The Nets are getting the Philadelphia 76ers at the perfect time. After a few days to digest a sputtering start to the early-season schedule, the Nets will return to the northeast to face the worst team in the modern sports era.
The Nets did not learn much from their trip to Oklahoma City and San Antonio. They predictably beat the Thunder without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, but needed Reggie Jackson’s buzzer-beating three-point attempt to rim out for a 94-92 decision. Saturday night, the Nets never factored into a 99-87 Spurs win.
The defending champions jumped out to an early lead and led by double digits for the majority of the night. The Nets briefly cut the deficit to 85-77 in the fourth quarter, but it was short lived.
The Spurs slung the ball around the paint and constantly found the open man to the tune of a 51.9 field-goal percentage. At some point, the Nets aspire to be that. Heck, all teams aspire to that level of professionalism and consistency.
At 5-8, though, they’re a long way away.
“That’s a team you envy because they’ve had a system, a coach, pretty much the same group of guys for a long time,” said guard Deron Williams, who was one of the few Nets to play well with 24 points and seven assists. “You can tell they’re comfortable playing with each other. … They play the right way.”
Head coach Lionel Hollins conceded that the Nets are an unknown and had no idea when they would reach a level of predictability. Besides Williams and Mirza Teletovic (22 points), Brooklyn struggled in San Antonio. Hollins’s bunch managed just 37.4 percent from the field.
And that duo combined to shoot 51.4 percent.
“I wish I knew [when we would gel] and then I wouldn’t be so stressed,” Hollins said. “I don’t know what kind of team we are. I just want us to become a collective team and a team that battles for each other and competes.”
Williams said “it’s really hard” to get to the Spurs’ current lot in the NBA, but his team will need to find some semblance of an identity. They are 0-6 against teams with winning records, and their best win has come against the Orlando Magic. That was the game in which Joe Johnson lamented his team’s selfish style of play.
The Nets have also been relatively healthy. Aside from losing Lopez for two games and Kevin Garnett on Saturday to rest, the Nets have been healthy. Their opponents, on the other hand, have not been.
The Nets have played teams missing the following starters:
Oklahoma City: Durant, Westbrook, Anthony Morrow, Jeremy Lamb (W)
New York Knicks: Jose Calderon, Andrea Bargnani, Pablo Prigioni (W)
Orlando: Victor Oladipo (W)
Golden State: David Lee (L)
Portland: LaMarcus Aldridge, Nicolas Batum (L)
Miami Heat: Luol Deng, Dwyane Wade, Josh McRoberts (L)
Oklahoma City: Durant, Westbrook, Perry Jones (W)
San Antonio Spurs: Tiago Splitter, Patty Mills, Cory Joseph, Matt Bonner (L)
Of the Nets 13 games, nine have come against compromised rosters. While Hollins makes the valid argument that all NBA players can play, the opposing coaches clearly had to deal with shifting lineups. So if the Heat and Blazers can muster up some identity with virtual unknowns, why can’t the Nets?
They will look to start finding those answers Wednesday in Philadelphia.