Brooklyn Nets head coach Avery Johnson yells during the second...

Brooklyn Nets head coach Avery Johnson yells during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks. (Dec. 9, 2012) Credit: AP

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The message Avery Johnson delivered to his team these past two days revolves around a five-letter word, the very same one at the end of the four-word phrase found on the back of a piece of American currency.


In Johnson's opinion, there hasn't been enough of that lately, and he thinks a lack of it started creeping into the players' heads during this rough stretch in which the Nets (13-12) have lost eight of their last 10 heading into Sunday's game against the 76ers (13-14) at Barclays Center.

"That's a big part of being on a really good team," Johnson said after Saturday's practice at PNY Center, "especially when the game gets rough or you go through a rough patch in the season. You've got to make the extra pass. Guys have got to trust that if they rotate on defense, they have to trust that their teammates are going to help them out.

"That's some of the breakdowns that we've been having. A guy has to know that if you're open for a shot, he can trust you to make it. So then he'll make the pass instead of trying to do something on his own."

The Nets have had their issues on defense lately, something they hoped would improve with Brook Lopez's return. But teams are lighting them up in the paint. That's where the T-word again comes back into the equation.

"That's just a sign of selfishness if you are focused on just your man," Reggie Evans said. "In this game, you have to help each other out. It's a team sport. This is not tennis. The guards have to be able to trust us. We have to be able to trust the guards."

When the Nets stop executing the small things -- setting screens, sticking to defensive principles, crisp ball movement -- that's when they've been at their worst. That's the way Evans sees it, breaking it down with his usual unique perspective.

"It's like a financial adviser stealing money from you," he said. "They take $50 this week, take another $50 next week, take another $50 the next week. They are slowly, slowly chipping away where you look back at it like, 'Dang, all my money is gone.' It's the little things that have added up to big things. So we have to make sure we cover the little things and we'll be all right."

"We are not a franchise that has won 10, 15 championships. It's going to take work," Johnson said. "I've been telling the guys all along, when you are going through a situation where you've got to work at it and there's a little adversity, there can't be a sense of entitlement just because we spent a lot of money on the team or we are in a new building. We have to work at it.

"We have to go out and have the type of mental toughness where we have to beat our opponents. Our opponents are not going to lay down and allow us to win."

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