The NBA re-start looked like a daunting task for the roster-depleted Nets when they suffered a 31-point blowout loss to the Pelicans in the first of three scrimmage games. But they beat the Spurs on Saturday and then put together a strong second-half performance against the Jazz that fell just short in a 112-107 loss Monday night at the Disney World campus in Orlando, Florida.
After trailing by 16 points in the third period, the Nets had a chance to tie the game at 105 with 1:34 left to play, but Dzanan Musa missed two foul shots. From there, former Hofstra star Justin Wright-Foreman took over, scoring the final seven Jazz points to fend off the Nets, who finished 1-2 in scrimmages.
Caris LeVert led the Nets with 23 points and six assists, Jarrett Allen added 19 points and 11 rebounds, and Rodions Kurucs (13 points, six rebounds) and Tyler Johnson (11 points) played well off the bench. Rudy Gobert topped the Jazz with 20 points and seven rebounds and Mike Conley added 18 points.
It was the second straight outstanding game for LeVert, who will be counted upon to carry the offense when the Nets (30-34) resume their season against the Magic on Friday afternoon. “I feel we got better as the games went on,” he said. “I’m happy with our performance today even though we didn’t get the win.
“I felt like we played hard. We got better, especially on the defensive end and our principles and being in the right spots. We haven’t shot well as a team yet, but I think when that comes, it will all come together for us.”
The undersized Nets were outrebounded by nine boards in the first half and also allowed the Jazz to hit 10 of 22 three-pointers. But their defense made significant improvement in the second half when they held the Jazz to 3-for-13 shooting from deep and were even in rebounds.
Allen said it was a sign of progress. “Tonight, we showed a lot more energy,” he said. “Coming from the first game, where we got blown out, to tonight, you could just see the confidence building in our team camaraderie.”
The seventh-place Nets are off on Tuesday and will have two more practices to get ready for the re-start against the eighth-place Magic and then the ninth-place Wizards.
“We’ll clean up some things,” coach Jacque Vaughn said. “We’ll start with a day off [Tuesday], give guys a chance to see how they responded from the increased minutes, and then two laser-focused days of preparation. Two big games for us at the beginning of this segment, so can we focus and maybe implement a few things that those teams haven’t seen and give ourselves a chance.”
Notes & quotes: Nets guard Kyrie Irving, who is not taking part in the NBA re-start while recovering from shoulder surgery, on Monday announced that he is committing $1.5 million to supplement the income of WNBA players who are choosing not to play this season because they are focusing on social justice work or because they have concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic . . . Neither veteran Jamal Crawford nor G League standout Dona Hall played against the Jazz, but Vaughn expressed faith in Crawford’s ability to fit in with the Nets when their season resumes Friday against the Magic. “I would say Jamal is definitely ahead just because he’s played over 1300 games in his career,” Vaughn said. “He’s a guy that understands his body, understands the different flows of the game and how he can impact the game. Conversely, with Donta being a younger player, we’ll need a little bit more input on how he can impact the team. Fully confident in Jamal’s ability to impact the game when he does return for us.”