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Nets find positives amid losing season

Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez looks to drive

Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez looks to drive against Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) during the fourth quarter of an NBA game on Friday, March 17, 2017, in New York. The Celtics won 98-95. Credit: AP / Julie Jacobson

Give the Nets this: After 55 losses this season, they are very, very good at losing.

That sounds like a dig because, let’s face it, there is absolutely no way to sugarcoat that many losses. But as the Nets face their final 14 games, They actually have managed one very pivotal psychological win: In a year where the mounting losses are guaranteed, the defeats don’t have to be.

“That growth is absolutely there,” Brook Lopez said Friday after another loss — this one, at least, a close one against the Celtics. “I feel like it’s going to continue to get exponentially better. I think that’s team-wise as well. When you really look at that situation, I don’t think we’ve all been out there at the same time. We’ve got some new guys who are coming in and they don’t necessarily know all the plays and they’re just getting thrown in the fire in the heat of the moment but they’re producing. I think that bodes well for our future.”

That has been the theme for a team that has gained a new sense of self since the return of Jeremy Lin, who was sidelined for most of the season with a hamstring injury. While the home locker room at Madison Square Garden most closely resembles a morgue after a loss, at Barclays, it’s more like a classroom. There are zero expectations for this team, and though the Nets certainly looked beat up at times during this very lost season, it appears they’ve turned a corner.

“It’s learning to play with each other, the intangible things,” Lin said. “And we’re doing that. I’m encouraged.”

And they’ve had a modicum of success to go with it. Going into Sunday afternoon’s game against the Mavericks, the Nets are 5-6 in their last 11 games. Caris LeVert has been something of a revelation, and relatively unproven players like Andrew Nicholson and KJ McDaniels made significant contributions against the Celtics. Most importantly, Lin and Lopez, the linchpins of this organization, are finally getting a chance to feel each other out (Lin has only played 24 games this season).

“It’s easy because he genuinely wants me to succeed, I genuinely want him to succeed,” Lin said. “We don’t have to fake it. We both are, and we’ve been, completely on the same page . . . We’ve been having a ton of discussions. How do we keep trying to make our play more and more dangerous and harder to guard.”

It remains to be seen if any of this will actually mean anything any time soon, or even how long Lin and Lopez — who headlines the team’s trade rumors every year — will get a chance to iron things out. But in a year that could have been full of unstoppable misery, it’s certainly something.


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