The talk from the Nets this preseason stressed defense would be a greater priority this season. Coach Jacque Vaughn said training camp allowed him to teach schemes he couldn’t apply last year.
The Nets’ final preseason game Wednesday showed why results have been mixed this preseason. They allowed 34 points in the first quarter against the Heat but 43 over the next two periods.
Their 107-104 win at Kaseya Center in Miami brought better trends than their previous two games against NBA teams. They gave up 75 first half points in their preseason loss to the Lakers and 68 in the first half in Monday’s loss against the 76ers.
Nic Claxton, who had four blocks against the Heat, was blunt saying the Nets (2-2 in preseason) have a long way to go to get right but they’re trusting what’s being taught. Vaughn was less concerned as he wants players to be patient through mistakes.
“We’re introducing new concepts on a daily basis, so I’m throwing a lot at the guys just so that they can feel some of the things that we want to do.” Vaughn said Monday. “The one layer that you have to bring every single no matter what defense it is . . . you got to play hard.”
The struggles re-emerged early Wednesday as the Nets allowed the Heat, who sat Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro, to go on a 14-0 first quarter run. It was reminiscent of Monday when the Nets, without Mikal Bridges due to rest, allowed the 76ers to start on a 12-0 run.
But the Nets regrouped and when the starters exited early in the fourth, they were ahead 90-84. Lonnie Walker led all scorers with 22 points while Day’Ron Sharpe had 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Vaughn has made clear defense will be the Nets’ identity. Through all four preseason games, it’s been a work in progress where there’s good stretches mixed with miscommunication.
Against the 76ers, for example, Vaughn said the Nets tried three to four different coverages. It’s not common for teams or players to experiment in preseason but Ben Simmons noted it’s been a challenge even for the veterans.
“A lot of the concepts we’re learning now we’ve never done. If you’re in the league for a while, you have certain things drilled into your mind that you need to do on instinct. Sometimes, you’re going to resort to that,” Simmons said. “But we’re trying to learn new concepts and terminology. So you know, we’re just going to continue to stay with it and trust it.”
That might be a tougher plan with the Nets’ early schedule. They open hosting the Cavaliers and of their first 10 games, six are against teams that made the playoffs. A seventh, the Bulls, made the play-in tournament.
It’s a slate that won’t leave much room for error. The Nets haven’t been smooth defensively this preseason but there’s hope the new schemes are building blocks to better goals down the road.
For now, the four games — and Wednesday’s win — were a solid test to learn what’s needed to improve on that side of the ball.
“We’re not going to be the most talented team. We’re going to play against teams that have been together longer than us as a group,” Claxton said. “That’s where it all starts, with us just going out and playing hard.”