When coach Kenny Atkinson analyzed the close losses in the Nets’ recent eight-game skid, he identified the common theme as poor defensive rebounding. The Nets snapped that losing streak with two straight wins over the Raptors and Knicks, and they did it with a “hit first” mentality on the boards.
Against the Raptors, who have the NBA’s best record, the Nets controlled the boards by a whopping 60-41 margin, and they outrebounded the Knicks, 45-40.
“You take end of game and then our overall defensive rebounding percentage, and that’s our No. 1 weakness,” Atkinson said after practice on Tuesday. “It’s a big-time emphasis.
“I think the part we’re missing is the ‘hit first.’ There’s too much standing and watching. Ed Davis does the best job on the team. Jarrett Allen has gotten a tiny bit better from last year, but he’s got to improve.”
Centers Allen and Davis have played a critical role in the Nets’ recent about-face. Allen had 12 rebounds and two blocks against the Knicks and 10 rebounds and two blocks against the Raptors while Davis had eight rebounds against the Knicks and 15 against the Raptors.
“Last year we didn’t do so great in rebounding,” said Allen, who has improved from 5.4 to 8.5 per game. “Even this year, we’re still struggling a little bit. It’s just being more aggressive for me. You can tell it helps us not only on defense but going into offense.
“Every sophomore is going to say another year in the league always helps. And then we have Ed Davis. I’m going to give him a lot of credit for it.”
Davis, who is a nine-year NBA veteran, has mentored Allen all season, particularly when it comes to positioning and learning the tricks of the trade for how to beat stronger opponents.
“I’m giving him pointers here and there,” Davis said of Allen. “But whenever you can get in-game experience, it helps a lot. He’s learning what he can and can’t get away with. When you’re young in this league, you don’t get the benefit of the doubt with the whistle. But he’s a good player and is going to keep getting better and better.”
Allen and Davis will have their hands full with 76ers All-Star center Joel Embiid Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center. Embiid had 32 points and 12 rebounds in a narrow 76ers win over the Nets over two weeks ago, but Allen and Davis combined to hold him to 16 points on only eight shots when the Nets beat the 76ers in November.
“He’s a top-three big in the league,” Davis said of Embiid. “He gets to the foul line a lot. Me and J.A. definitely have to be aware of that. We’ve played him twice already and I think we’ve been in foul trouble both games. It’s definitely something we can’t have happen [Wednesday].”