In the two games since they upset the defending Eastern Conference champion Cavaliers, raising hopes for an abrupt turnaround from last season’s woeful performance, the Nets (3-4) have regressed badly in losses to the Knicks and Nuggets. Coach Kenny Atkinson challenged his players in a team meeting on Monday to get back to playing the right way when they face the Suns (2-4) Tuesday night at Barclays Center.
Atkinson called the breakdowns “collective,” and he included himself and the coaches in that assessment. “We talked about it today,” Atkinson said after practice. “These are days you get better when you have to address those issues.”
During the first half against the Nuggets, the Nets seemed to regain their stride as they took a 63-60 half time lead. But they got blown out in the third quarter by a 40-21 margin, including a 25-2 run where the game got away.
“I felt where the (lack of) leadership part kicked in was during that 25-2 run,” Atkinson said. “We never stopped the bleeding. We never got together. We hung our heads. It was a collective kind of letdown. We never got unified again and fought. Last year, we had similar issues when we were really young.”
Veteran point guard Jeremy Lin is out for the season with a ruptured patella tendon, and veterans DeMarre Carroll (sore ankle) and Quincy Acy (groin strain) were on the sidelines Sunday. Acy remains out against the Suns, but Carroll is listed as questionable and might return if his ankle responds at shootaround Tuesday morning.
Carroll said the Nets are a young team still getting to know each other, but they accepted Atkinson’s message in a positive fashion. “If I’m out or I’m in, guys have to step up and grow quickly,” Carroll said. “We’ve got to hold everybody accountable. If you want to become a leader, you’ve got to show it on the court. You can’t just talk it.”
Noting that the Nets had a similar defensive letdown in a loss at Orlando before coming back to beat the Cavs, Carroll predicted they will rebound again. “We responded before the Cleveland game when Kenny got into us, and I’m pretty sure we’ll respond well (against Phoenix). I think guys will come out real hungry and play a little harder.”
Atkinson agreed. The Nets have young players growing into major roles, including D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert, and they have accepted coaching eagerly. “Even the new guys, Allen and D’Angelo, it’s like, ‘Coach us,’” Atkinson said. “They want it, and that’s part of our culture. I’ve been in the NBA a long time, and there are some guys that are resistant. We don’t have that. We have guys who want to be coached and get better. We had a good back and forth. I think they feel a part of the process.”