The flight home from New Orleans was the time for the Nets to permit themselves a few moments to reflect upon and mourn over how they blew a seven-point lead against the undefeated Pelicans in the final two minutes of a 117-115 loss Friday night at Smoothie King Center. But then they had to press the reset button because it only gets tougher against the two-time defending champion Warriors, who visit Barclays Center Sunday evening.
“It’s a heck of a challenge,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “There’s no choice. You’ve got Golden State and then you’ve got the Knicks, two tough games. We’ve just got to get ready for those and battle. It’s a great chance for us to see how resilient we are.”
Following the Warriors game, the Nets (2-3) visit Madison Square Garden Monday night for the second game of a back-to-back set. They barely beat the Knicks in the home opener just over a week ago. That will be followed by home games against three playoff teams from last season — the Pistons, Rockets and 76ers — and then a four-game West Coast road trip that includes a visit to the Warriors.
Life comes at you fast in the NBA. In some respects, that’s what will make it easier for the Nets to put the Pelicans loss behind them.
As D’Angelo Russell said, “We play Sunday. That’s the best thing about it. We lost this one. We play Sunday. Get over it.”
At the same time, Russell knows that is easier said than done. He hit six three-pointers in a 24-point effort but blamed himself for a turnover with a one-point lead and 7.5 seconds left in the game that led to the Pelicans’ winning basket. That was part of a terrible final two minutes in which the Nets committed three turnovers, missed two shots and picked up a technical foul while being outscored, 9-0. That wiped out a lot of good things they did against the Pelicans.
“We played really well,” Russell said. “We gave ourselves a chance. One play kind of dictated the game. A lot of other plays happened, but that one play kind of dictated the loss. Like I said, 77 more to go.”
If the Pelicans game had ended after 46 minutes, the Nets would have felt good about the evolution of their defense. All-Star center Anthony Davis had only 18 points, 12 below his average, on 6 of 19 shooting. Power forward Nikola Mirotic, who came in averaging 28.0 points per game, was a minor factor with 10. The Nets also outrebounded the Pelicans, 54-46, and at the offensive end, they hit 47.5 percent from three-point range (19 of 40).
Atkinson scored it a B-plus for effort. “We’ve got a good fundamental base with our defense in place,” Atkinson said. “I thought we battled on the boards. We did a pretty good job. They went to the free-throw line a little too much. It’s a tough offensive team. You can’t stop everything.”
Backup center Ed Davis, who had 11 points but also was called for a technical foul with two seconds left for shoving Pelican Solomon Hill away from a Nets huddle, said there are no moral victories in the NBA. “We should have won this game tonight, but we didn’t,” Davis said. “We had some silly plays down the stretch, especially by me.
“The game is over with. We can’t go back and replay the last minute or two minutes. We can watch film and learn from it. We’ve got a tough one Sunday versus the defending champs, the best team in the league. It’s going to be a good one for us, and we’ll be ready.”