All-Star Weekend was a festive occasion for the four Nets who took part in the events and for an organization celebrating a surprising resurgence this season. But the hangover was a killer for the Nets, who began the serious business of a playoff push with a miserable performance in a 113-99 loss to the rugged Trail Blazers on Thursday night at Barclays Center.
The Nets took a physical beating from the seasoned Blazers, who have added former Knicks center Enes Kanter to back up Jusuf Nurkic. They totaled 17 of the Blazers 34 points in the third quarter, when they broke open a tight game and took a 12-point lead to the fourth quarter.
Ultimately, Nurkic totaled 27 points and 12 rebounds and Kanter added 18 points and nine rebounds for the Blazers (35-23). CJ McCollum had 21 points. Portland outrebounded the Nets 60-49, including 19 offensive rebounds for 22 second-chance points, and dominated points in the paint 66-50.
Nets coach Kenny Atkinson stressed the importance of rebounding when the Nets returned from the break. I think they were the more physical team, he said. I see 19 offensive rebounds we couldnt corral. I think we did a decent job on [Damien] Lillard and McCollum, just a tough time rebounding tonight. Thats one of the things were focused on, so Im disappointed there was no carryover from the emphasis at the All-Star break.
Trying to change things up for the cold-shooting Nets, Atkinson inserted Jared Dudley along with former Blazers Allen Crabbe, Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier in the fourth quarter. The Nets were down 14 points early in the period, but the former Blazers totaled 13 points in a 15-2 Nets run that cut their deficit to a point at 90-89 when DeMarre Carroll hit a long jumper with 7:24 left.
That was as close as the Nets (30-30) got as they fell back to the .500 mark with their sixth loss in eight games. Crabbe topped six Nets in double figures with 17 points, Davis added 15 points and 10 rebounds, and Jarrett Allen had 12 points and 10 rebounds. But the Nets shot only 39.1 percent from the field overall and 19.4 percent from three-point range (7-for-36).
All-Star DAngelo Russell had 14 points and eight assists but endured a 4-for-16 shooting night. NBA three-point contest champ Joe Harris had 13 points but missed all three three-pointers he attempted. Atkinsons power forward rotation also failed to produce as starter Treveon Graham was scoreless, backup Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had two points and Dudley was scoreless.
Rodions Kurucs, who took part with Allen in the Rising Stars Challenge during the All-Star break, did not even play. Asked if it was because of a sore left elbow that kept Kurucs out of the Nets last game before the break, Atkinson said, It was keeping the rotation at 10. Its going to be game to game. Theres tough decisions to be made. Obviously, we didnt find the right lineups, but I do think collectively we didnt play great.
Russell said it could have been a different outcome if the Nets had been hitting shots, but he agreed with Atkinson that poor rebounding was the Nets undoing.
I think we were missing a lot of shots. I wouldnt minimize it by saying just the three-point shot, Russell said. Its hard to win a game when youre getting outrebounded. They werent making a lot of shots either, but they were killing us on the second chances. I think we give ourselves a better chance if we dont allow them to do that versus them separating the game from second chances. That was the separation.