At least the Nets have one player who returned from All-Star break with a win under his belt. Spencer Dinwiddie scored a surprise victory in the Skills Challenge on All-Star Saturday night, but he returns to a team that has lost seven straight and 11 of its previous 12 games.
Coach Kenny Atkinson spent his break enjoying family time that included watching Dinwiddie’s triumph, but in a conference call with reporters before a late Tuesday practice, he added, “I thought a lot about the team and how we can get better. It’s a goal of ours to show improvement to end the season. We’re in a rut right now, and I want to continue on an upward swing, not this downward swing that we’re on. That’s the goal for these last 23 games.”
While Dinwiddie provided an uplifting moment for the Nets, Atkinson emphasized the need for the point guard to continue building on his breakout season. He suggested Dinwiddie can continue to improve at the defensive end and his shot selection from three-point range.
“His confidence has really shot through the roof,” Atkinson said of Dinwiddie. “What we’re looking for now is for him to make another step. He’s had a really good season. I do think there’s another level he can take it to.”
That goal may be applied across the board on a 19-40 team that must play 14 of its final 23 games on the road. Atkinson said he’ll focus squarely on improving the Nets’ defense before they return to action Thursday night in Charlotte. He also said he must consider changes to the lineup or the playing rotation before facing the Hornets.
It’s possible starting forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (groin strain) and backup point guard Caris LeVert (sprained knee) will be ready to rejoin the lineup soon. Both volunteered to spend their break rehabbing and doing some on-court work.
“We have to look at everything,” Atkinson said. “In a losing streak like this, everything is in play . . . I’m not satisfied with where we are right now, so, we have to find solutions to improve. We’re definitely looking at our rotations and lineups.”
Atkinson has been encouraged by the recent improvement of Allen Crabbe and D’Angelo Russell. “That’s huge,” Atkinson said. “Allen really is starting to round into form, and then D’Angelo is starting to get back to his normal self. We knew it was going to take some time (following knee surgery). That’s very positive.”
In the short time that remains in the Nets’ season, they also must continue to evaluate center Jahlil Okafor, who was acquired in December and will hit free agency after this season. But Atkinson did not indicate any plans to arbitrarily increase Okafor’s playing time.
“His play in practice, how he fits into our culture, how he plays in the minutes we give him, that will determine how much he plays,” Atkinson said. “Are we trending the right direction? I think that’s a challenge for all of us, Jahlil, and I’ll put all of us in that bucket. We have to get off this downward slide we’ve been in and start turning more positive.”