The Nets came into their final preseason game Friday night at Madison Square Garden riding a five-game losing streak to the Knicks, including the preseason opener, when they blew an early 15-point lead and allowed two-way player Allonzo Trier to rack up 25 points while center Enes Kanter dominated inside with 22 points and 20 rebounds.
In truth, the first three games of the preseason amounted to a red flag for an injury-plagued team that was shooting an anemic 24.5 percent from three-point range, averaging 24.0 turnovers and being outscored by 10 points per game.
Referring to the Knicks’ 4-0 sweep of last season’s series, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said: “Last year, they kind of physically overtook us in all the games. We’ve got to start to turn that around.”
The final preseason game was an important dress rehearsal for their home opener against the Knicks next Friday, and despite seeing a 21-point lead trimmed to four in the final minute, the Nets (2-2) passed that test in a 113-107 win over the Knicks (3-2), who rested Kanter.
“We lost to these guys five times in a row, and it’s nice to be on the other side of it,” Atkinson said after the game. “Nice job closing it out.”
The Nets had eight players score in double figures, led by Spencer Dinwiddie with 19 points, D’Angelo Russell with 18 points and eight assists, and Joe Harris with 16. It was the best offensive showing of the preseason as the Nets shot 15-for-37 (40.5 percent) from three-point range for the game and 40-for-79 (50.6 percent) from the floor.
As Russell said: “Everybody had that feel, that bounce in their step about the offense, knowing that it would come back to them. If you were open, you knew you were getting it.”
“The ball movement was the best of the preseason,” Atkinson added. “Quite honestly, the offense has struggled in three of four games. It’s also because of the changing lineups. It’s not easy if you don’t have continuity.”
The Nets face a challenge to integrate five veteran free agents as well as learning the adjustments Atkinson made to his spread offense. Those changes have been complicated by a series of injuries to key personnel.
Starting power forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson missed the entire preseason while recovering from a groin strain but scrimmaged for the second day in a row Friday and is expected to be ready for the opener Wednesday in Detroit. DeMarre Carroll (ankle), Allen Crabbe (ankle) and Shabazz Napier (hamstring) all sat out against the Knicks, but Atkinson said Carroll sat as a precaution and he’s hopeful Crabbe will be ready for the opener.
Atkinson recently said the lack of continuity might extend to the regular season. “With the injuries, we’re trying to find lineups,” he said. “It might take some time going into the regular season to figure it out to get a real set rotation that we’ll use the whole year.”