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Nets bicker with each other in loss, then hold players-only meeting

Otto Porter Jr. of the Washington Wizards battles

Otto Porter Jr. of the Washington Wizards battles Sean Kilpatrick of the Brooklyn Nets for a loose ball during the first half at Verizon Center on Dec. 30, 2016 in Washington, DC. Credit: Getty Images / Patrick Smith

It took two months and a growing level of frustration with their 8-24 record, but the Nets’ nerves are showing signs of fraying around the edges. After a 23-point loss in Washington on Friday night, guard Sean Kilpatrick said in a published report that the Nets were “bickering back and forth . . . instead of playing together” throughout the blowout.

Coach Kenny Atkinson and center Brook Lopez on Saturday acknowledged the truth of Kilpatrick’s comments and said the situation was addressed in a players-only meeting immediately after the game before the locker room opened. Kilpatrick was not available to the media Saturday.

“It did happen,” Lopez said. “It’s not something we’ve had to repeatedly deal with this season. It happens with every team throughout the year. We talked about it after the game as a team. None of the coaches were there. It’s important we all have respect for each other, and at the same time, we have the ability to hold each other accountable and ourselves accountable. To do that, we have to be able to have a dialogue with one another.”

The Nets came out flat and got steamrolled Friday night. Trey Burke scored 18 of his 27 points in the second quarter, when the Wizards shot 66.7 percent.

Atkinson expressed a “rare level of disappointment” with his team’s effort after the game, but on Saturday, he downplayed Kilpatrick’s comments as nothing out of the norm in the NBA.

“The players communicated about it after the game,” Atkinson said. “I think it’s great they resolve things amongst themselves without coach intervention. I’ve been on a lot of teams where that happens . . . It’s a tight-knit group, so it doesn’t concern me.”

The strain of a tough December schedule undoubtedly was a contributing factor. The Nets played 14 games in a 28-day span, including nine on the road. They have lost seven of their past eight games and have a 1-16 road record this season.

In that sense, a blowup during a blowout probably was inevitable. “I don’t think conflict is bad,” Atkinson said. “I’m not going to have a team meeting because a couple guys were bickering. I’m a coach that embraces conflict. We have conflict in the video room. We have brutal conflict sometimes. The fact they have conflict with each other is not the worst thing in the world as long as the rhetoric stays within the realm of decency . . . It helps you get better out of those moments of conflict that later resolve. I think it’s great.”

Atkinson emphasized that he still believes in the resiliency of his young team, but after two strong games against the Hornets and Bulls that were decided by buzzer-beaters, the coach said it was clear early that the Nets couldn’t do it a third time on the road against the red-hot Wizards. “I just think that’s a level we’re not at right now,” he said. “We have to find a way, coaches included, to be a little more ready for a schedule like that to play three tough teams in a row and do it the third night.”

All season, Lopez has been the apostle of team unity as the franchise undergoes a transformation and adapts to the demands of Atkinson’s systems while developing young players and free-agent castoffs.

Lopez expressed confidence that the Nets will bounce back in their next game Monday night against Utah at Barclays Center. But he also acknowledged that their NBA-worst road record won’t improve until the Nets resolve their trust issues.

“We really have to have a level of trust that we haven’t had yet this season in one another,” Lopez said. “We really can make each other and our team better together. The only way the system is going to work is if everyone buys in.”

Notes & quotes: Jeremy Lin (hamstring strain) is undergoing rehab but no basketball activity. Joe Harris (hip pointer) was said by Atkinson to be “trending in a positive direction.” His status will be determined after Monday morning’s shootaround.

New York Sports