CLEVELAND — The Nets have lost three of their past four games, falling to Boston, Golden State and Cleveland. That encompasses the team with the best record in the league and the two teams that have met in the NBA Finals for three years running.
But the Nets lost those three games by an average of only eight points and were close in the final five minutes of all three. It took a 23-point fourth-quarter effort by LeBron James to beat the Nets on Wednesday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
So while the Nets’ 6-11 record is in the lower echelon of the standings, it’s clear they are making progress.
“You can look at it as a positive that we’re moving in the right direction, trying to put together complete games,” said former Cav Joe Harris, who had 18 points against his former team.
Referring to the losses to the Warriors and Cavs, Harris added, “Those are the two top teams in the NBA and have been for the last few years, so for us to compete and play each team close, that’s encouraging for us. I think it should give us an optimistic outlook going forward.”
The Nets can take their next step against Portland (10-8), which features high-scoring guard tandem Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, in a noon tipoff Friday at Barclays Center. The Nets had one of their finest performances of the season in a road win over the Trail Blazers.
DeMarre Carroll suggested the Nets need to bottle the formula they used to cut a 28-point Warriors lead to four and then lead the Cavs by seven points in the fourth quarter.
“This is the type of team we want to be — share the ball, be aggressive,” Carroll said after the loss in Cleveland. “We’ve got Portland, a tough ballclub, coming in Friday. This was a tough loss, but I think we can learn from it.”
The Nets played small late against the Cavs in an effort to keep enough shooters on the floor to be effective on offense. But 6-10 rookie center Jarrett Allen is showing signs that he can be a difference-maker at both ends of the court. In 18 minutes against the Cavs, he had six points on 3-for-3 shooting, four rebounds, two assists and one blocked shot and was plus-10.
“I think the reason he hasn’t been out there is because he’s been limited by the [strained left foot] injury,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said. “I’ve known since training camp that he’s going to contribute right away. I like his basketball IQ. I like his toughness.”
The rookie said his defense has improved as he’s learned how to handle the way teams such as the Cavs and Warriors screen to create open shots. He wasn’t aware of a minutes limitation and said he’s “feeling great” after recovering from his injury.
Asked if he’s ready for more minutes and a larger role, Allen smiled and said, “Everybody is going to say yes. Personally, I do think I can. You can’t ask a player that question.”
They grow up so fast.