Last season, the Nets had the NBA’s worst record at 20-62, including a stretch in which they went 1-27. But if early preseason returns are to be believed, the new-look Nets are going to be a much better team with — dare we say it — real hope for dramatic improvement.
Playing active defense and combining newfound depth with their league-best pace, the Nets absolutely wore out the Miami Heat for a 107-88 victory Thursday night at Barclays Center to improve to 2-0 with two preseason games remaining.
Jeremy Lin led the Nets with 16 points, Sean Kilpatrick added 14 and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Trevor Booker had 10 each. D’Angelo Russell had an off night with nine points, shooting 4-for-14 overall and 1-for-7 from three-point range, but the Nets had plenty of firepower to compensate. The Heat is considered a legitimate playoff contender, but the Nets outrebounded Miami 62-37 and held the Heat to 37.2 percent shooting.
Miami coach Erik Spoelstra was impressed. “Brooklyn was playing at a different pace than us, and we weren’t able to match that type of energy,” he said. “It looked like we were playing in quicksand, a step behind on virtually everything, and we paid the price for that.”
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said his team came out with a defensive mentality after playing a poor first quarter in their preseason opener against the Knicks. It was an encouraging result for the Nets, given that key wings Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert each missed a second straight game with minor ankle sprains.
“Very positive,” Atkinson said of a team with five new veterans plus rookie Jarrett Allen. “You feel the difference already. We haven’t started the regular season, so we have to be cautious, but I do feel we have a stronger 1 through 15 [on the roster] without Caris and Allen, who are good players.”
Hollis-Jefferson was one of four Nets to grab eight rebounds along with Timofey Mozgov, DeMarre Carroll and Booker.
Asked if Nets fans have reason for optimism, Hollis-Jefferson said, “It’s been rough the past few years, but I guess it’s on us to kind of win their loyalty back and keep putting in the work day in and day out so that they feel comfortable cheering for Brooklyn again. That’s what we’re here for.”
Before training camp began, Lin predicted the Nets could get into playoff contention, but he said they can’t put too much stock in preseason wins.
“We’re not focused on some large, overarching goal right now,” Lin said. “We believe we can accomplish certain things, which we’ve already talked about, but for us, it’s just take these baby steps.
“We saw what Atlanta did three or four years ago. We’ve seen teams like Portland come up out of nowhere and have great years. I think it’s possible for sure.”