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Nets keep focus on court after China trip

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson looks on during a

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson looks on during a preseason game against Franca Basketball Club on Oct. 4, 2019 at Barclays Center. Credit: Howard Simmons

The Nets made all kinds of preparations before boarding a flight to play the Lakers in two preseason games in China.

The staff talked to players about nutrition, sleep and how to best deal with jet leg. Eye masks were passed out on the plane and general manger Sean Marks gave each player a blanket with the Nets logo on it.

One thing that the team didn’t prepare for: Getting thrown into the middle of a geopolitical incident.

For the most part, the Nets were fairly tight-lipped Wednesday when it came to talking about what had to be a surreal last week. As the team’s plane was landing in China, the repercussions from Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey’s pro-Hong Kong Twitter post were just starting to form. The tweet, which was quickly erased, upset China, the team’s largest market outside of the United States.

The Nets found out about the tweet shortly after arriving in Shanghai, players said. Coach Kenny Atkinson declined to give any details about how the team had dealt with the news.

“In four years here I’ve never commented on a political issue or a social issue,” Atkinson said, setting the tone. “I’m just going to continue in that vein. I’m just going to keep it on the Nets and the on-court stuff, anything you want to know about how we played, the rotations, the pick-and-roll defense. I’d be more than willing to answer that.”

The team is in a uniquely strange position given that their owner, Joe Tsai, is the co-founder of Alibaba, one of the largest companies in China. In a Facebook post on Oct. 6, two days after Morey’s tweet, Tsai called the post damaging and called the Hong Kong protests a “separatist movement.”

Tsai met the Nets players in China and spent a great deal of time with the team on the trip, taking them to dinners and events. Tsai, according to Joe Harris, told the team about his Facebook post.

“He basically sort of advised us to read the post and take it from there,” Harris said.

In their first couple of days in China, the country’s communist government canceled several NBA events, advertisers pulled out and China’s main television stations announced they would not broadcast the games.

The Nets and Lakers also met with NBA commissioner Adam Silver. It has been widely reported that Nets point guard Kyrie Irving suggested during the meeting that the players pull out of the game considering everything that was going on. Irving practiced on Wednesday in Brooklyn, but declined to speak to the media.

Guard Caris LeVert said he thought everything that happened on the trip brought the team closer together.

“We just tried to block it out, but it’s tough to block everything out,” LeVert said when asked if there was ever a point when he felt scared with everything that was going on. “At the end of the day we are human and we see those things, so we just tried to stick together as much as we could and focus our sites on the game.”

NOTES AND QUOTES: Irving practiced fully yesterday and is expected to play in the team’s final preseason game on Friday, Atkinson said. Irving fractured multiple bones in his face after being hit with an inadvertent elbow in a pickup game before training camp. He was hit again in the face by Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo in the second preseason game, and played just one minute in that game.

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