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Nets' defense again struggles in loss to Cavaliers

The Cavaliers' Taurean Prince  drives to the

The Cavaliers' Taurean Prince  drives to the basket against the Nets' DeAndre Jordan  and Joe Harris during the first half of an NBA game on Friday in Cleveland. Credit: AP/Tony Dejak

You know how they say the best defense is a good offense? Well, the Nets would like to have a word with that particular cliché.

Two days after allowing 147 points in a double-overtime loss to the Cavaliers — an NBA high this season — the Nets were back at it again against the Cavs on Friday night and ended up with a similar result: Outrebounded, outhustled and lacking the pivotal stops they needed as they dropped their second in a row, 125-113, at Rocket Mortgage Arena.

And though the Nets were outsized, too, Steve Nash said the biggest culprit was their inability to lock down, clean up their defense and show pride in that side of the game.

"We’ve just got to find a way to play harder, dig deeper," he said. "We’re not a defensive roster. We have to take more pride in it. We have to win more 50-50s, contest shots, fight, scrap, claw. That’s what I think is missing as much as anything schematic . . . We’ve got a lot of things to work on. There’s a lot to clean up."

And most of it showed up on the scoresheet. The Cavaliers shot 51.7% from the floor and outrebounded the Nets 50-29. They outscored the Nets 70-46 in the paint. They had six players score in double digits, led by Collin Sexton, who had 25. Two Cavaliers had double-doubles: Andre Drummond with 19 points and 16 rebounds and Larry Nance Jr. with 15 and 10.

Kyrie Irving scored 38 points and James Harden had 19 points and 11 rebounds. Kevin Durant, who was rested, did not play.

The Cavaliers pulled ahead with a 34-27 third quarter. "Our sense of urgency just wasn’t where it needed to be at the start of that third quarter," Joe Harris said. "To a man, everybody is frustrated right now."

The Nets entered the second quarter down by one and eventually managed to get ahead 38-34 on the strength of a 5-0 run that was punctuated by Harden’s step-back three with 10:27 to go in the half. The Nets’ past came back to haunt them in a big way, though, in the form of some very big hair.

Jarrett Allen — part of the super-deal that brought Harden to the Nets — ended the Nets’ run with a loud dunk that helped the Cavs regain the lead. He scored the next four points and chipped in a monster block on Harris as they went up 47-41.

Allen scored 19 points off the bench and fellow former Net Taurean Prince had 14.

"These were two humbling losses," Irving said. "The trade happened and we’re playing against guys that know us very well and they added value tonight and they added value the other night and rightfully so. Cleveland played well. They played with a chip on their shoulder."

The Cavaliers were up 61-54 with 1:54 left in the first half, but the Nets scored the next six, highlighted by Bruce Brown’s alley-oop from Irving to go into the break down 61-60.

In the third, the Cavaliers turned a one-point deficit into a 14-point lead behind a 20-5 run that lasted a little less than five minutes. The Nets (9-8) turned over the ball eight times for 14 points in that frame after committing only two turnovers in the first half. The Cavaliers (8-7) shot 66.7% from the field in the quarter, leading to a 98-84 lead going into the fourth.

Nash acknowledged his frustration but underlined the fact that it’s far too early to panic, especially with the talent this team has available.

"You want to protect them in a sense and say, OK, it’s early, and at the same time, you expect them to perform, so I don’t want to give them an out, but I also don’t want to overreact," he said. "We have to control some of the things we can control. We can’t control necessarily adding more defenders right now, but we can control how clean we are with our communication and our scheme."

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