The schedule just keeps coming at the 9-8 Nets, who have played the most games in the NBA other than the 8-9 Knicks. Coming off two straight road losses in Cleveland, the Nets play their fifth game in eight nights and complete a back-to-back against defending Eastern Conference champion Miami (6-8) Saturday night at Barclays Center.
MVP candidate Kevin Durant sat out the Nets’ 125-113 loss to the Cavs on Friday night for load-management reasons, and his return will be a major boost for a team that was outrebounded by an embarrassing 50-29 margin. The Cavs were the worst offensive team in the early going this NBA season, but they averaged 136 points in the two games against the Nets.
"I think collectively, as a whole, we have to come out with a better focus on the defensive end," veteran center DeAndre Jordan said. "I know everybody says that, and it kind of gets old after a while, but it is true. We’ve got to come out with defense on our mind. Maybe that has to be our identity.
"We obviously don’t want to overreact because it is early in the season. We’re not even a month in. We lost two games back-to-back. You’ve got to give those guys credit . . . We can’t play on our heels most of the game. We’ve got to attack on both ends of the floor."
Former Nets Jarrett Allen and Taurean Prince, who went to the Cavs as part of the four-team trade for James Harden, both played out of their minds against the Nets in the two wins. So, that was part of the price paid.
But it’s almost as though the Nets have so much offensive firepower that they feel they can turn it on with the flip of a switch and ignore defense. Irving admitted that’s not really the case.
"We know what the outside world expects of us," Irving said of the trade that brought Harden to the Nets. "That’s going to happen. One day, we’re great. The next day, we’re not . . . But I’m grateful to be a teammate with these guys and we continue to develop, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.
"We’ve got to take these games as seriously as we can in terms of learning . . . We don’t want to be the ‘flip the switch’ team. We don’t. We want to be the team that’s consistently dominating, and we’ll get there."
The only game Durant, Irving and Harden have played together was their 147-135 double-overtime loss to the Cavs on Wednesday. The Saturday night game against the Heat will be just their second together. So, it really is a process of learning how to play together and then fitting in the pieces around them.
First-year coach Steve Nash admitted the Nets have to start winning the "hustle battles" they have been losing. He acknowledged that, while they have played well against the top teams in the NBA, they have played poorly against some of the lesser lights. If they want to contend for a title, the Nets must raise their level of play.
"It’s going to take us the entire year," Nash said. "Does that mean I expect us to be at this level until the playoffs? No, I expect us to improve. As long as we’re continually trending towards a higher level, that’s all you can ask for.
"A couple of days ago, we were going well [with a four-game winning streak]. Here we are getting outplayed twice in Cleveland, and we’ve got to get back and find that juice to, if nothing else, make them pay for how we played. I just felt Cleveland never really had to feel us. So, that’s a lesson for us, and we’ll get another shot at it [Saturday] night."