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Nets’ defense puts drag on rebuild

Lakers guard Lonzo Ball goes to the basket

Lakers guard Lonzo Ball goes to the basket against Nets forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson during a game, Friday, Nov. 3, 2017, in Los Angeles. Credit: AP / Ryan Kang

LOS ANGELES — What happened to the promise the Nets showed in a 3-1 preseason that was followed by a 3-2 regular-season start? For a few bright, shining moments, it seemed the team with the NBA’s worst record last season might be on the verge of making a quantum leap forward.

But budding optimism has given way to a feeling of déjà vu. The Nets (3-6) have lost four straight with a team that ranks last in the NBA in points allowed per game (119.3). They have given up at least 120 points in six of their nine games and have gone 1-5 in those contests.

Coach Kenny Atkinson said when the season began that this team is expected to show improvement, but he finds himself in a quandary over the Nets’ poor shot selection and loss of rhythm on offense that feeds into poor defense.

“For some reason, we’ve lost the rhythm we had in the beginning of the season,” Atkinson said after a 124-112 loss to the Lakers on Friday night at Staples Center. “We’ve got to get it back.”

Atkinson watched his team surrender three double-doubles to the Lakers, including a 34-point, 10-rebound effort by Brook Lopez, who was traded by the Nets to the Lakers for D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov as part of a program to get younger and find players who fit the Nets’ fast-paced system. But the Nets’ young backcourt of Russell and Caris Le Vert has struggled with shot selection. That pair was 10-for-34 from the field against the Lakers, including a 2-for-13 performance from three-point range.

“It becomes contagious in a negative way,” Atkinson said of the Nets’ poor shot selection. “It’s collectively we’re just not moving the ball like we were in the beginning of the year. We better find the solution to that quick because teams are just too good defensively. We’re not a one-on-one team. That’s not how we’re built. We’re built on ball movement and player movement. We’ve got to get back to that.”

Allen Crabbe, the designated shooter the Nets acquired in an offseason trade, is hitting only 38.0 percent of his shots but seems to be emerging from a slump that was related to an ankle sprain during training camp. He scored a team-high 25 against the Lakers, including a 4-for-8 effort from three-point range, and got to the foul line for 11 free throws.

He may be a shooter, but Crabbe understands how poor defense can take a team out of rhythm by putting it in desperation mode. “Our biggest thing this year has been defense,” he said. “We keep preaching it, but we’ve got to make improvements because we gave up 120 again.”

As for the Nets’ questionable shot selection, Crabbe said, “Coach feels like we try to do it individually. We get down and we stop moving the ball, stop playing with the pass. We’ve just got to get back to what works, getting back to those preseason wins and getting back to those three [regular-season] wins and looking at what we did in those games.”

One obvious problem the Nets faced against the Lakers was the absence of injured big men Trevor Booker (sore lower back), Quincy Acy (strained groin) and Jarrett Allen (sore foot). It’s uncertain whether any of them will be ready for the Nets’ next game Monday night in Phoenix.

“They help us out big-time,” Crabbe said. “Defensively, offensively. They bring something on both sides. For us to be limited at the ‘big’ position, it’s a team effort, and we didn’t have our guys tonight. That gives opportunity for other guys to step up, but when [key players] are out, sometimes you need what they bring. Hopefully, we can get them back soon.”

New York Sports