Rebounding seemed as if it should’ve been the last thing on the Nets’ mind after Thursday’s 129-128 loss to the Hornets.
It didn’t seem to be as obvious a culprit as giving up 21 three-pointers or not being able to stop guard Terry Rozier. The Nets outrebounded the Hornets by 11 and had a season-high 22 offensive rebounds, nine from Nic Claxton.
But coach Jacque Vaughn singled it out as a bigger issue than the Hornets’ long-range shooting. He mentioned Hornets second-year center Mark Williams having five offensive rebounds in the first half, matching the Nets’ entire total.
“That has nothing to do with threes, and for us to give that up, it’s just unacceptable for this group,” Vaughn said. “To have a standard, to play a certain way every single game, and we did not have the standard that we typically have, especially in that first half, and that set the tone.”
It’s becoming a common issue through 18 games. The Nets make strides, then slide back into old habits. The search for consistency continues, but it’s turning into part of this team’s identity as much as playing hard or being in close games.
The Nets (9-9) have yet to have many defining wins. Beating the Magic by 20 on Nov. 14 was impressive, given Orlando’s strong start. Beating the Heat in Miami on Nov. 1 despite missing three starters was a testament to their will, among other things.
But they also have losses that reveal just as much about them. Losing to the Hawks, who played the second night of a back-to-back, exposed the Nets’ still-growing chemistry on defense. They haven’t been able to match the best of the Eastern Conference aside from that win over the Magic, one of the East’s main surprise stories.
A common thread in the Nets’ last four losses: first-half lapses. Whether it’s giving up scoring runs or letting individual players heat up, it’s forced them to play catch-up.
It also could be why Vaughn harped on giving up rebounds to Williams in the first half and allowing the Hornets to score 73 points before halftime. The Nets outscored the Hornets by one in the second half but a 42-point second quarter by the Hornets proved to be the difference.
“Those close-margin games, every little possession matters, so that’s kind of what that is,” Cam Johnson said.
Close games tend to reveal a team’s strengths and weaknesses pretty well. In clutch time — defined by the NBA as the last five minutes of regulation or overtime when the score is within five points — the Nets are 5-5.
They’re 5-6 in games decided by fewer than 10 points but 2-5 in games decided by five or fewer points.
At some point, fans have to hope those close games pay off more than hurt. That’ll require the Nets to not just finish games better but play more consistently throughout so they’re not always climbing uphill.
No matter how much they’ve improved as a rebounding and three-point-shooting team, it won’t matter if they’re stuck around the .500 mark most of the season.