The NBA season is just two games old, but the early trend is a sign of good things ahead for the Nets. They were 2-0 heading into their game at Charlotte on Sunday night, but the key is that they had the No. 1 defensive rating in the league, and they were No. 1 in points allowed (97.0), opponent field-goal percentage (.376) and blocks per game (8.5).
New coach Steve Nash emphasized defense and barely practiced offense during the Nets’ abbreviated training camp. Apparently, his message got through.
"It’s one of those things where the priority here early on has been on the defensive end of the ball," Joe Harris said following the Nets’ Christmas Day blowout in Boston. "A lot of stuff that we do in practice, a lot of things that we are watching on film is defensively. I think a lot of it is because we have so much offensive firepower where [Nash] is not as concerned with it.
"The offense is kind of going to find its rhythm over the course of the season. The defense might be a little bit ahead. I think that we play really well together and play well off those two guys in particular."
Those "two guys," of course are superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Both are known for their offensive prowess, but both have been surprisingly strong on the defensive end. In that regard, Irving’s performance has come as the biggest surprise at point guard.
Following the Boston game, Nash praised Irving’s defensive play.
"It was maybe the first thing that struck me in preseason was the first practice, just his talent defensively," Nash said. "You don’t think of that. But he’s more athletic than you think. He’s stronger than you think. I think he’s capable of making some incredible plays defensively.
"This is a league that’s starting to just pick on little guys. But he battled. He’s smart. He uses his hands, uses his feet, whatever it may take to throw the other guy off. So he’s very capable defensively, and I’ve been very impressed with that side of the ball. As we come together as a team, I think it will be more cohesive, as well."
The Nets had first-half turnover problems in their first two games, but they compensated with strong defense. They totally shut down Golden State and Boston in the second half of both games on their way to blowout victories. The Nets are the first team since the 2008-09 Lakers to begin the season with two wins by 20 points or more.
"I think for the most part we’re helping each other out," Durant, said. "You know, we’re kind of putting out fires throughout the possession, you know. Some stuff is instinct, some stuff is just natural feel for the defense. But everybody’s on one string. Guys are just making smart IQ plays, as well, so we got to keep that up. We gave up a lot of offensive rebounds early on, and we turned the ball over. But if we can take care of that and control that, we’ll be solid."
Nash explained that he has stressed defense in the limited number of practices the Nets have had. He also said that because of the rim protection provided by centers DeAndre Jordan and Jarrett Allen, he has encouraged the perimeter defenders to be more aggressive and to switch frequently rather than working to get over screens.
"I think we defended well in both games for the most part and that’s where we’re going to judge ourselves every night," Nash said. "We’re going to judge ourselves on our defense, implementing our principles, so we’re off to a good start in that respect, but we have to stay hungry."