Once it became clear Kevin Garnett was going to miss some time with back spasms, Jason Kidd used his absence as a reality check for his team.
The way Deron Williams described that recent team meeting, the first-year coach didn't mince words when he told the big guys what's happened in the past when Garnett sat.
"When KG is out," Kidd said, "our defense drops off a lot."
Sure, those are not exactly fighting words, especially to players from a different generation. But sometimes in today's NBA game, simply pointing out the truth to guys is all a coach -- especially an understated one -- needs to do to get their attention.
According to Williams, Kidd's message resonated in the locker room.
"I think those guys have taken it to heart and are trying to prove him wrong," Williams said yesterday after practice. "They're coming out and playing great inspired defense."
The Nets have won both games that Garnett has had to sit out, thanks mostly to their defense. Kidd Tuesday even described their 96-80 win over the Bulls on Monday night as their most consistent 48-minute defensive performance of the season.
And when the Nets host the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday night, they may have to be without Garnett again. The 37-year-old center, still among the league's most active defensive players, did not practice Tuesday and the team called him a game-time decision.
Garnett's absence hurts because of how important he's been to their small lineup, which has been a big reason behind their 19-8 record since the new year began.
With Garnett playing center and Paul Pierce at power forward, Garnett's long arms and active presence in the paint has made up for their collective lack of size.
Without him these two games, they've asked rookie Mason Plumlee and Andray Blatche to take on a bigger role on defense and Pierce has found himself banging bodies under the basket against bigger, stronger guys such as Chicago's Carlos Boozer.
"He's a competitor," Kidd said of Pierce. "He's a guy that will guard someone who outweighs him by 50, 60 pounds."
Though the makeshift front line minus Garnett doesn't sound like a winning recipe, the Nets have made it work during these last two games by double teaming in the post down low and swarming defenders in the half-court set to create havoc.
The result was an impressive defensive performance against Chicago in which they had an NBA season high 19 steals and forced the Bulls into 28 turnovers. They had 14 steals in the 107-98 win over Milwaukee on Saturday, the first game Garnett missed.
"I asked those guys this afternoon how many backdoors we gave up and they all knew the answer," Kidd said, "so that just shows they're in tune and executing the game plan."
So what was the answer?
Kidd smiled: "Zero."