The 9-34 Nets aren’t just the worst team in the NBA. They are 4 1⁄2 games out of the 29th spot. So it’s going to take a major reversal in the second half of the season to improve that standing.
But after banging their heads against a wall for the first 41 games, the Nets finally saw a glimmer of hope. They began the second half of the season with their second road win Friday night in New Orleans, scoring a season-high 143 points, then overcame a 17-point deficit to lead four times in the fourth quarter Saturday night in Charlotte before losing.
The game-changer has been the sudden ascent of a second unit that pairs youngsters Caris LeVert, Isaiah Whitehead and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson with veterans Randy Foye and Quincy Acy, who is on his second 10-day contract. That unit flashed a defensive prowess that generated the offensive explosion that beat the Pelicans and helped the Nets climb out of a first-quarter hole in Charlotte to scrap down the stretch.
“With that unit, me and Caris are the shooters and the playmakers,” Foye said. “That’s how we look at it. Isaiah is going to call the play and get us inside. We all can handle the ball. But the biggest thing is our impact on defense. The main thing I try to talk to them about is getting it done on defense.”
LeVert credited Foye with putting the second unit in a defensive mindset that helped break open Friday’s game in the third quarter. In Charlotte, after the first unit cut a 14-point halftime deficit to three, the second unit turned it into a tie game through three quarters and gained the lead early in the fourth.
Foye didn’t want to talk about putting two good third quarters together. Poor play in that period has been an issue, and he didn’t want to jinx their success. “Don’t even bring it up,” he said with a laugh.
“The way that Coach is putting us in position to be successful has just been a fun brand of basketball. It’s something he talked about from the beginning. It’s just been cool. You kind of saw glimpses, but now we’re really starting to see it. I said to Isaiah, ‘Seeing is believing.’
“You saw what happened [against the Pelicans] when you share the ball. You start believing. I always try to be the catalyst of that because I know if you get somebody a good shot, they ain’t going to think twice about giving you the ball for a great shot.”
After their last two games, the Nets have a renewed sense of optimism. Putting together two strong performances on the road was significant.
“[Friday] night was a good win against a team with an All-Star starter [Anthony Davis],” Foye said. “[Saturday in Charlotte] tests your toughness. It was us saying you’ve got to be tough-minded and you’ve got to keep fighting. If we keep that attitude and that approach, I think that we’ll be all right.”