51° Good Afternoon
51° Good Afternoon

Kenny Atkinson expects Nets’ defense to improve over time

Brooklyn Nets' head coach Kenny Atkinson reacts in

Brooklyn Nets' head coach Kenny Atkinson reacts in the first half of a preseason game against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

After three preseason games that have included experiments with a variety of roster combinations, it’s clear the best-laid defensive plans of first-year coach Kenny Atkinson aren’t going to transform the Nets’ 29th-ranked defense overnight.

Coming off a 121-100 loss at Miami in which the Nets were outrebounded 55-37, forced only two second-half turnovers and totaled just five steals, Atkinson still had his sense of humor after reviewing film with his players Wednesday in preparation for Thursday night’s game against Boston at Barclays Center.

“Teaching moments” was his operative phrase. “We had some beautiful ones today,” Atkinson said. “We have to embrace those moments. Doing it in practice and a game are two different things . . . It’s just a matter of getting more game reps, especially for our young guys.”

All three Nets games have included terrible defensive stretches. They gave up 59 points and 58.1 percent shooting to Detroit in the opener before limiting the Pistons to 35 second-half points in a win. The Nets lost the Knicks game by allowing 39 points and 61.9 percent shooting in the third quarter. At Miami, a 38-17 third quarter was the difference, though the Nets were handicapped by the fact 7-foot center Brook Lopez was rested against the Heat’s Hassan Whiteside.

Atkinson admitted pressure on the ball, especially by the guards, has not been where it needs to be. “What we want is more consistency,” Atkinson said. “We’re not stringing long enough stretches together. I think that will come from playing together and them knowing what we want. But it’s definitely an area for improvement.”

Atkinson was pleased with the eight-rebound game turned in by power forward Trevor Booker, whom he has identified as the Nets’ defensive leader, but there must be greater emphasis on team rebounding, including the guards.

“I feel like we’re definitely getting better,” Booker said of new players learning the defense. “Last game, it was more about competing. We didn’t have that road mentality. The second unit did a pretty good job, but the first unit has got to do it more consistently.”

Booker showed his aggressiveness, crashing to the floor once in each of the first two games while trying to make a play on defense. “I don’t think it’s new to me being a defensive leader,” Booker said. “I was pretty much the same thing in Utah. That’s why they brought me in. But the thing that I’ve got to focus on more is making sure I bring it every game and setting a tone for the other guys so they can follow my lead.”

Halfway through the preseason, Atkinson insisted he’s not worried about the Nets’ defensive capability. “It’s early returns,” Atkinson said. “We need more data, more information, more feedback and seeing our main guys together more. That’s going to help. We’re sticking with our principles.”

Notes & quotes: First-round draft pick Caris LeVert, who is rehabbing from foot surgery, is practicing on a limited basis. There is no public timetable for his return, but LeVert said, “It’s definitely been positive. The training staff is really encouraged.”


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