The Nets may be drawing closer to getting some much-needed defensive relief, but two days after giving up a whopping 147 points in a double-overtime loss to Cleveland, Steve Nash said the ‘D’ has to improve from within. And, if they get a little outside help, well, that’s great, too.
First, the good news: The Nets plan to sign 27-year-old big man Norvel Pelle, ESPN reported Friday, though he has to clear health and safety protocols first, including passing multiple COVID-19 tests. The 6-10 Pelle, who was last with the 76ers a season ago, is a strong shot-blocker but was consistently in foul trouble. He averaged 1.3 blocks and 3.0 rebounds in 9.5 minutes per game, and was signed by the Cavaliers this offseason on an Exhibit 10 contract. Though he has plenty to prove, it could help a team that has struggled defensively after losing Jarrett Allen in the James Harden trade.
"We miss him, for sure," Nash said of Allen.
And now that the Nets have their Big 3 together, Nash said, "Defense has to be a priority. It’s going to be what makes or breaks our season . . . We have to improve it."
The Nets still have two more roster spots to fill — one before a Jan. 30 deadline — and though more defensive help certainly would be nice, Nash said they simply can’t bank on it and have to learn to adapt and flourish with what they have on hand now.
Unfortunately, what they had going into Friday was the NBA’s 22nd-worst defensive rating.
Improving is "something that’s going to take time, [and] I don’t know that we can fix that in a couple weeks," Nash said. "It’s going to be a work in progress the entire season and it has to be our number one priority . . . You know, if roster composition changes for the better defensively, that’s great, but I don’t think we can rely on that because that may not be possible. It’s not like they’re just falling off trees for us to pick up guys that are going to change our defense."
Though the NBA season waits for no man, there’s certainly a reason Nash is preaching patience. Harden has been here all of a week and Kyrie Irving missed large swaths of time, first for personal reasons and then for violating the NBA’s COVID-19 protocol. Even Friday, Kevin Durant was rested and did not play.
"We’ve had this big trade and Spencer [Dinwiddie's] injury, so lots have been thrown at us and we just got to stick with it, stick together, prioritize defense and, like I said, chip away and make small improvements throughout the course of the season," Nash said. "But it can’t come if you don’t prioritize it, so I think our mentality has to be there."
A lot of that, Nash said, was cleaning up on mental errors — the "fundamental sins" the Nets have taken to committing. They really just need to "take pride defensively," he said, even if their blockbuster players aren’t necessarily known for individual defensive achievement. Doing that, he said, might help with the minutes strain they’re feeling. Defensively sounder games means less of an excuse to play their three superstars for 35 or 40 minutes. In Wednesday’s double-overtime game, Durant and Harden each played 50 minutes and Irving played 48.
"We need to play better out the gate," Nash said. "What’s a seven-point lead should be a 12-point lead and instead, a seven-point lead goes to a six-point deficit, and now you’re scrapping and clawing to get back, and then the minutes get extended here and there, and before you know it, you’re going to double overtime and guys are already near 40 minutes or so."
Notes & quotes: Despite some early missteps, Nash said he very much thinks Reggie Perry can be the player they need to fill out their rotation. Perry is averaging 3.5 points and 3.0 rebounds in 9.4 minutes "I still believe in Reggie a lot," Nash said. "A big part of Reggie’s success is getting more comfortable playing more NBA basketball . . . He understands basketball and has instincts for the game [and] now it’s about bringing those instincts out and getting comfort, familiarity with the NBA game so that his skills can make an impact on our team."