It’s no coincidence that the Nets have followed their season-high three-game losing streak with a season-high five-game winning streak that includes victories in the first four games of a five-game West Coast trip that ends against the Clippers on Sunday in Los Angeles.
The catalyst for the turnaround may be traced to their third straight loss in Detroit, where a poor defensive effort caused sparks to fly on the sideline between coach Steve Nash and center DeAndre Jordan, and in the locker room, where Jeff Green spoke sharply about not repeating the same defensive mistakes over and over.
The Nets held the Pacers to 30 first-half points in the next game and 94 overall, and they held the defending champion Lakers to 98 points in their fifth straight win Thursday night at Staples Center. A team that allowed 11 of their previous 12 opponents to score at least 120 points through the Detroit game has given up an average of 111.6 points in the five-game winning streak.
When it was mentioned to Kyrie Irving that Nash said the Nets had "turned a corner" at the defensive end, Irving said with some emotion, "Yeah, it’s about time we turn the corner defensively. No team is going to win anything in this league if they don’t get stops defensively. It’s about time, and we heard them [the Nets’ coaching staff] loud and clear in the last few games.
"We’re going to hold each other accountable. I know when you’re watching, we’re yelling, we’re pointing at each other. But that’s what we need in order to stay engaged. We need that level of grit. It’s OK to get angry on the defensive end and be physical in the league. We’re . . . out here trying to win."
Defense isn’t the only thing the Nets have improved. Kevin Durant (left hamstring tightness) was available only for the win at Golden State in this stretch, and Irving sat out the epic win in Phoenix in which the Nets came back from a 24-point deficit.
Those injuries afforded increased playing time for role players. Said Nash: "Our guys have really stepped up lately."
In the first four games of the road trip, the Nets connected on 49.1% of their three-point attempts (81-for-165). NBA three-point percentage leader Joe Harris (50.7%), James Harden (40.8%), Irving (42.7%) and Durant (43.4%) are a big part of that, but so are backups Tyler Johnson (44.4%), Jeff Green (42.5%), Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (38.2%) and Landry Shamet (35.5%).
After the Detroit loss, Luwawu-Cabarrot said the Nets' veterans talked about the importance of extra effort, and that they also have shown by the way they move the ball and make the extra pass that they trust the role players.
"It’s about the little details, the little things we all can do, like jump on the ball when there’s a ball on the floor, fight for your teammates, things that don’t show on the stat sheets but that actually mean a great deal for the team," Luwawu-Cabarrot said.
"We’re buying into it, and it’s just showing on the court now. Everybody’s doing their job and we’ve got great pieces and great assets. When everybody’s healthy, it’s going to be a scary thing."