Coming off a stretch in which they lost five straight games to elite playoff contenders and 12 of their past 14 overall, the Nets have reached what may well be the turning point of their season.
Starting in Detroit on Saturday night, the Nets (18-25) play seven straight games against fellow teams with losing records before wrapping up with three games against winning teams, including two against the defending champion Raptors, before the All-Star break.
“Guys are in good spirits,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson insisted after practice on Friday. “They understand we need to improve and get better, and I feel like we’re in a good place mentally. This is an important stretch coming up before the All-Star [break] – we’ve got 10 games, I believe – so we want to go into the All-Star break on a positive note. If we get our guys healthy and we get our lineups set, I feel good about the future.”
Although backup centers DeAndre Jordan (dislocated right middle finger) and Nic Claxton (left shoulder contusion) still are listed as questionable, Atkinson said both did on-court work Friday and took contact. “So, they’re close,” Atkinson said. If one or both could return against the Pistons and bulky center Andre Drummond, it certainly would improve the Nets’ size and depth.
Coming into this season, the Nets evinced widespread confidence about how much better they would be with so many veteran newcomers, including Kyrie Irving, even though Kevin Durant was projected to sit out the entire season while rehabbing from Achilles tendon surgery. But a plethora of injuries that have sidetracked so many of those veterans have left the Nets searching for chemistry.
Following a loss in which they were blown out by the Lakers in the fourth quarter Thursday night, Atkinson said, “I think right now we’re still discovering each other. You hate it this late in the season, but that’s the truth.”
Asked after practice if they are dealing with trust issues, Atkinson downplayed that notion. “They understand the context of what has been going on, especially guys have been in and out,” Atkinson said. “I think they’re confident that, as we get more whole, we’ll improve. So, spirits good, had a good session today. But we do know these next 10 games we have to make up some ground and we have to have some success and get some wins back here.”
Wilson Chandler is one of the Nets’ new veterans who is just beginning to find his way after serving a 25-game suspension for use of a banned substance to start the season. “It’s tough,” Chandler said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are playing together that haven’t played together. Caris [LeVert] has been in and out, I’ve been in and out, Ky has been in and out, [Garrett Temple], so many guys. We’ve got a lot of rotations that we haven’t put on the court for long stretches of time.
“Stuff like that can either break you, or it can make you. I think we’ve got enough players that have been through the fire. I think we’ve become closer.”
The next 10 games should tell the tale.