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Nets must be at their best, facing Warriors, Cavaliers

Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez looks to pass

Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez looks to pass defended by Golden State Warriors center Festus Ezeli in the first half of an NBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The Nets told center Brook Lopez to take the night off Tuesday in Toronto, but there were moments in the first half when it seemed the whole team failed to show up against the Raptors. If the Nets don’t adhere to their motto of playing with “Brooklyn grit,” you have to wonder how bad things might get in their next two games.

Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant and the Warriors bring the NBA’s highest-scoring offense (117.9 points per game) to Barclays Center Thursday night to face a Nets defense that ranks last in points per game allowed (114.3). Then, the Nets must travel to Cleveland to face LeBron James and the defending champion Cavaliers on Friday night.

“We are going to play three [of the] best teams in the NBA,” said Luis Scola, who was including the loss to the Raptors. “How is it going to be? If we get a so-so effort, we are going to be down 20. If we get a great effort and maybe we play well, then we are going to have a chance. That’s the mindset and mentality and how to approach these games that we really need to learn.”

For most of the Nets’ 7-20 season, effort hasn’t been an issue. Overall talent level complicated by injury factors that have led to lineup instability is to blame for their poor record. But the Nets knew from the start their No. 1 priority had to be to play harder than anyone else.

Perhaps the Nets suffered a mental letdown because they were handicapped by the absence of Lopez, who is scheduled to play both ends of the back-to-back. Scola, who started in place of Lopez, agreed their chances of winning without Lopez were compromised.

“Without Brook, everything is more difficult for us, no question,” Scola said. “We cannot use him [as an excuse]. The things we are trying to impose, it doesn’t matter who is playing. We’re going to preach compete, play hard, energy, all those things. You may end up losing, but you still can do them.

“We’re not asking nobody to be Brook. We’re not asking nobody to be a superstar. We’re not asking nobody to score 35 points or play at a level they’re not capable of.”

Scola said one play when only Jeremy Lin made the effort to get back on defense after a turnover “summarized the first half” of that game. The Nets improved after a halftime scolding from Atkinson.

“We know at this stage of development where we are right now, we’re going to make a lot of mistakes,” Scola said. “But there were a couple things that are non-negotiable — energy, play hard, competing, playing together, being unselfish, being professional. Those are the ones we’re trying to fix. We’re trying to have those every game. Obviously, it’s going to be a learning process.”

New York Sports