The Brooklyn Nets may be 1-9, but they’re certainly encouraged by their recent play.
“We’re a much better team than we were at the start of the year,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins said Monday. “I think that we’re developing a work ethic and a togetherness that we didn’t have before.”
After kicking off a tough three-game road trip with a win in Houston last Wednesday, Brooklyn suffered consecutive narrow losses in Sacramento and Golden State on Friday and Saturday.
“We easily should have been 3-0 on that road trip,” Nets power forward Thaddeus Young said.
Perhaps center Brook Lopez summed it up best.
“We haven’t had guys quitting,” Lopez said. “It definitely doesn’t feel like other previous seasons, where we had a losing season and a losing mentality to go with it. We have a very positive group here.”
With that in mind, here are a few reasons why the Nets are feeling good about themselves:
Their starting lineup has played extremely well: Lopez, Young, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Joe Johnson and Jarrett Jack have posted a plus-21.5 net rating in their 80 minutes together -- with an offensive efficiency of 108.1 and a defensive efficiency of 86.6. Sure, it’s a small sample size, but this group tends to really complement one another. Let’s see if it continues.
Improved point guard play: Jack entered the weekend ranked 125th out of 125 qualifying players in points per shot. But against the Kings and Warriors, he combined for 49 points, 21 assists and three turnovers. He shot nearly 50 percent from the field while going 18-for-19 at the free-throw stripe.
Jack says he’s healthy now, which is good. But given his reliance on taking floaters and midrange shots, the jury is out on whether he can maintain this type of efficiency. Backup Shane Larkin is shooting 41.7 percent from 3-point range -- more than 10 percentage points above his career average from downtown.
Lopez’s game on both ends: So far, so good. While the 7-footer did not shoot particularly well on the trip -- and missed a point-blank would-be game-winner on Saturday -- he did compile 12 blocks in three games. Lopez is averaging 19.2 points, 8.5 rebounds and 2.4 rejections per game early in the season while putting up a 20.79 Player Efficiency Rating. He just has to stay healthy, and the Nets need to continue to feed him the ball more in the fourth quarter.
They’ve been right there at the end: They just haven’t won. Saturday night’s overtime loss to the Warriors was particularly upsetting because the Nets had so many chances to put it away. They had a 17-point lead early in the second quarter, but they ultimately surrendered it and then failed to execute down the stretch. There was the eight-second violation/missed timeout by the officials, the failure to foul Andre Iguodala before his game-tying 3-pointer and Lopez’s miss off a perfect inbounds lob pass from Johnson.
They’ve dug themselves an early hole. They have 72 games to dig themselves out of it.
“(Kevin Garnett) used to always say that losing is a part of winning,” Jack said. “Going through the tough times makes the good times feel that much better. So, coming home, we’ve got a chance to right the ship. We face a tough Atlanta team (on Tuesday night) and they’re coming off a loss to Utah. So we’ve got to come in here and be ready for the challenge.”