Nets vs. Nuggets: Brooklyn and the NBA on the Hunt for Consistency

When the Brooklyn Nets host the Denver Nuggets at Barclays Center on Tuesday night, it will mark three weeks since they opened up the 2020-21 season with a 125-99 win over the Golden State Warriors.

They’ll go into the game with a 5-6 record, while the Nuggets — Western Conference finalists last season — are 5-5. They’ve got company. Three weeks in, more than half the league is hanging around within a game or two of .500 either way.

“I think, it’s just a short training camp, so no one really knows who they are, and then you head into a schedule you’re playing more than every other day, it’s hard to resolve and refine your issues,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “Not to mention the COVID protocols and whatever things that may go on with your team with other injuries or procedures. I think we’re going to see that for a period of time. I’m sure it will resolve itself at some point in the season, but for now we are I think a team, a league that has a lot of teams that are unsettled. They had short camps. They’re straight into a very heavy schedule and very little practice time, and then all the dynamics of COVID and COVID protocols, which are understandable.”

After opening up 2-0, Brooklyn lost four of five before beating Utah and Philadelphia. But they’ve dropped their last two games with big swings. They came back from 22 down to take a lead in Memphis before losing, then had an early 15-point lead wiped out in a 13-point loss to Oklahoma City on Sunday.

“I do defend the players in that this league, in a normal year but especially in this condensed schedule, it comes so hard and fast,” said Nash. “There’s going to be nights in a regular season, let alone tonight, where you just aren’t at your best and you’re a little flat, and I thought we were flat in Memphis the first half, and we came out and played great last night. And then perhaps I think took our foot off the gas. And that’s a team that plays with no pressure and has nothing to lose, and they were terrific, and we didn’t match them and we didn’t keep the ball in front. We didn’t show enough pride or respect.

“Part of it is I think you’re just going to see some of that, and we’re seeing some of that around the league because it’s hard to sustain playing more than every other day. At the same time, that’s the challenge, to dig deep and find a way to win, win ugly, win when you don’t have your best stuff, and to overcome that kind of intense scheduling and demand on the mind and body.”

The Nets got Kevin Durant back on Sunday after he missed three games due to health and safety protocols, but Tyler Johnson was out for the same reason, and Kyrie Irving was out for the third straight game due to personal reasons. Brooklyn has been without Spencer Dinwiddie since he suffered an ACL tear in the third game of the season. Against OKC, the Nets used their sixth different starting lineup in their first 11 games.

“Our whole thing is we just are trying to spend as much time as we can together particularly on the court but we don’t have a lot of practice time,” said Joe Harris. “These games that we have been having, we haven’t had a lot of continuity. As soon as you start to get there something happens and you might be down a guy whether it’s injury, COVID protocol, whatever it might be. So it’s been a difficult transition up to this point. You know you hope to get some sort of normalcy in terms of that realm going forward but again we came into this season, Steve the rest of the staff, they all talked about being able to adapt, be resilient, it’s a challenge on teams across the league. And everybody is trying to figure out best how to adapt with it. And I think whoever does figure that out and is able to maintain a level of positivity, a sense of energy across the board amongst the group, those are the teams that are going to have the most success.”


Forward Taurean Prince has scored in double figures in Brooklyn’s last three games after doing so once over the first eight. Prince is averaging 13.3 over the last three, and on Sunday scored 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting with five rebounds and two assists in 24 minutes.


Call Brooklyn’s defensive performance on Sunday disappointing, but maybe it was mostly surprising. The Nets entered the game ranked third in the NBA in defensive rating at 105.5, and over the previous week they’d been at the top of the league, with Friday’s first quarter in Memphis the only blip in three consecutive strong games.

“Watching the tape, it wasn’t, oh they hunted the mismatch and that guy can’t guard that guy,” said Nash. “More often than not, it was a breakdown. It was, we didn’t have the discipline to stay down. We didn’t have the discipline not to reach. It’s such a strange year in that I think we’re — I can’t remember from day to day because everything’s happening so fast — but I think we’re around sixth in defense. So here we are 5-6 but with a sixth-rated defense. Plenty of work to do though. You’re always looking to find the best measure for your team, to find continuity and consistency, but you have to be ready to react and you have to be able to adjust, and I think last night; it’s tough — do you make an adjustment, or do you clean up the glaring error or just not taking enough pride and sticking to your man and having the discipline not to bail him out.”

Sunday’s 129-116 loss to the Thunder dropped the Nets to seventh in the league and elevated their defensive rating to 107.2. Brooklyn remains first in the league in opponent effective field goal percentage allowed (50.2).

“We just got to get consistent at it,” said Kevin Durant. “I felt like we’ve played some great defensive games this past week when I was out and you know throughout the season I just think we’ve been up and down on that side of the ball. It’s a matter of time before we start to put it all together and become more consistent with it and that’s going to happen over time.”


Landry Shamet came into the season shooting 40 percent from 3-point range for his career over two NBA seasons, but he’s been searching for his shot in his first season as a Net. Shamet is shooting 25.6 percent from 3-point range after going 0-for-4 from deep against OKC on Sunday. After the game, he was back out on the court in an empty Barclays Center working on his shot.

“I know this isn’t me,” said Shamet. “It’s not who I am and it’s not going to last forever. One thing I’ve always resorted to is doing extra, doing more. You know, when (it) gets tough, just bite down on the mouthpiece, put my hard hat on and go to work. That’s all you can do. Can’t complain, can’t waste time or energy. So, just trying to get my feel, simplify, and just get my rhythm and feel.”

Against the Thunder, Shamet also moved into a point guard role with the second unit, his first time with extended minutes there as a Net. It’s a role he’s comfortable with from his college days at Wichita State.

“If you watched me in college, there wasn’t a possession that went by where I wasn’t playmaking, initiating our offense, handling the ball, coming off ball screens,” said Shamet. “That was what I did, that was my role. I wasn’t the pindown, off-the-screens shooter that you see me as right now. So I’m extremely comfortable doing that. I had two turnovers last game which isn’t OK if I’m going to be in that position, so I take ownership there, but I’m comfortable doing that, I want to get back to doing that. That’s something that I aspire to be in this league, a true combo guard, play either role.”


Denver is one of the league’s most effective offensive teams, and the Nuggets have won four of five after losing four of their first five. Denver is first in the league in field goal percentage (49.4), but there’s an emphasis inside the arc there as the Nuggets are 13th in 3-point percentage (37.3). They’re sixth in the league in points in the paint with 50.8 per game, second in offensive rating (115.9), second in effective field goal percentage (56.5), and second in assists per game (27.1). Denver is 25th in in the NBA in rebounds per game (42.7) but eighth in rebound percentage (51.6). The Nuggets are 25th in defensive rating (112.2) for the full season, but in winning four of their last five they’ve ranked 15th (108.2) during that stretch. Center Nikola Jokic is averaging a triple-double with 24.4 points, 11.2 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game, ranking third in the league in assists. He’s also shooting 43.3 percent from 3-point range. Jamal Murray is averaging 19.7 points, but Denver has been without Michael Porter, who’s averaging 19.5 points, due to health and safety protocols.

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