It’s not as brutal as the 1-27 stretch the Nets endured last season when they won one game between Dec. 26, 2016 and March 1, 2017, but the Nets once again find themselves limping toward the All-Star break. They have lost six straight games, and they are 4-16 in the past six weeks to drop from a surprising 15-23 record to 19-39 going into their final game before the break against Indiana Wednesday night at Barclays Center.
“Obviously, we’re all frustrated right now,” Kenny Atkinson said following a 13-point loss to the Clippers on Monday. “It’s a tough time. This is a tough stretch we’re going through, but we have one more game before the All-Star break. I told the guys, ‘Let’s put our energy into getting one against Indiana.’ A good Indiana team, but we’re at home. It would be a good thing for our morale to get one before the All-Star break so we go in with positive feelings.”
After pulling out two straight home wins in the final minute to begin the New Year, the Nets ranked as one of the feel-good stories in the NBA, having exceeded the very modest expectations for them despite long-term injuries to Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell. But that optimism has dissipated even though Russell has worked his way back from arthroscopic knee surgery.
The Nets miss the rebounding and energy provided by veteran big men Trevor Booker and Tyler Zeller, who were traded away, and they still are trying to blend in Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas and, more recently, Dante Cunningham, who were acquired in those deals. They also are without two of their best defenders in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (groin) and Caris LeVert (sprained knee), both of whom will be evaluated after the All-Star break.
“I think our guys are fatigued, just like everybody in the NBA is fatigued,” Atkinson said. “Obviously, we’ve been playing some guys big minutes lately . . . but somehow, we have to find the energy, get our juices for Indiana.”
Despite the bottom line, the Nets continue to draw praise for opponents who admire their competitive nature. They wiped out a 28-point deficit on Saturday only to lose in double-overtime to the Pelicans, and they cut a 23-point deficit to nine in the fourth quarter against the Clippers.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said of Atkinson, “I just love him as a coach. I think he does a great job. His team executes, they play hard, they play together. I don’t think people appreciate how hard that is when your team is not winning to get guys to play together. Most guys start looking at the contracts, they get selfish and it’s all about the numbers. Somehow, Kenny has figured it out. They play together, and that’s pretty impressive.”
Still, it’s not sympathy the Nets need. It’s positive results.