If there is one area in which the Nets consistently have struggled, it is in trying to determine how to contain the best big men in the NBA. It happened again Saturday night when an extremely shorthanded Lakers team blew out the Nets by 25 points at Barclays Center because they couldn’t handle 6-10, 279-pound Andre Drummond, who had 20 points and 11 rebounds and was plus-18 in his playing time.
Big men come in all shapes and sizes and have different skill sets. Some are powerful around the rim and others have the ability to stretch the defense with three-point shooting. It’s a matchup challenge Nets coach Steve Nash must address in the next two games on Monday night in Minnesota against Karl-Anthony Towns and on Wednesday night in Philadelphia against Joel Embiid, who was an MVP candidate earlier in the season before getting injured and is effective inside and out.
"They’re two very different matchups," Nash said after the Lakers loss. "I think Towns ends up playing more on the perimeter, a lot of pick-and-pop, a lot of isolating and outside. Joel is more of an interior presence who can go outside if he needs to, so different looks.
"Our team’s going to have to attack them defensively in different ways, so I think we’ve got to be versatile. We’re going to play different lineups. We’ve got to find an effective balance regardless of the matchup."
Since the Nets signed former All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge in the buyout market, the 15-year veteran has started five games, sending 13-year vet DeAndre Jordan to the bench behind backup big men Jeff Green, Blake Griffin and Nic Claxton, who have played a variety of roles.
The Nets are 3-2 with Aldridge starting, and he had positive numbers in the wins and negative numbers in the losses. When Jordan was benched, he was in the minus column in the previous 11 straight games even as the Nets went 9-2 in that stretch, yet his play on defense was a positive factor in February when they got their season on track.
Aldridge repeatedly blamed himself for the Nets’ defensive issues against Drummond and the Lakers, saying he was "floating" and still working to get his legs back after a prolonged idle period while negotiating his buyout with the Spurs. "I can’t get past how bad I was tonight defensively," he said. "I’m definitely going to do a better job of trying to set the tone and just playing way better defense. Way too passive tonight."
Aldridge (non-COVID illness) and starting point guard Kyrie Irving (personal reasons, family matter) have been ruled out for the game against Minnesota. With Aldridge sidelined, it won’t be surprising if Jordan gets another shot from Nash to play in the next two games.
"We have four or five centers, so you can’t necessarily play everyone," Nash said. "I’d love to find a time to give him an opportunity again, but right now, we’re trying to figure out where LaMarcus and Blake are at and even get Nic more minutes. Something’s got to give and I wish I could give everyone all the minutes they desire, but it’s just impossible."
Notes & quotes: James Harden (right hamstring strain) and Tyler Johnson (right knee soreness) also remain out for the Nets . . . Alize Johnson signed a multiyear contract with the Nets valued at $1.4 million, according to an ESPN report.