MIAMI — For the second time during a 1-7 stretch over the past two weeks, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson expressed concern about his starting lineup’s lack of defensive energy and said he’s mulling changes. The Nets responded with a win after a terrible loss at Toronto, but the question is whether they can do the same against the Heat on Friday night at American Airlines Arena after playing virtually no defense in a bad loss Wednesday night in New Orleans.
Both of those no-show efforts came on the second night of a back-to-back set, and the Nets are 1-6 in those games this season. “It’s a little perplexing why we haven’t been more energetic on back-to-backs,” Atkinson said after the Nets were dominated by the Pelicans, who scored 128 points and had 40 assists, including 25 by Rajon Rondo, which tied the fifth-best total in NBA history. “In the past year, we haven’t lost big a ton. We’ve had two of them this year, Toronto and [New Orleans]. It’s not good for anybody, not good for the team, not good for the organization, our fans don’t like it. I understand that, and I think our players understand it.”
Although Atkinson said he must decide if he needs to “inject some more energy,” he ruled out the possibility of starting trade acquisition Jahlil Okafor before he’s in game condition and is familiar with the Nets’ system. Okafor’s timetable is geared for him to join the rotation during the first week of January.
“We’re going to stick with his plan that is in place,” Atkinson said. “We’re not going to all of a sudden rush into something because of one bad loss. Patience with Jahlil. He’s working his tail off. It’s just going to take a little more time.”
Atkinson’s options for making a change also might be limited because backup guard Caris LeVert suffered a left hip pointer after scoring 22 points against the Pelicans and is listed as questionable against the Heat (18-16), which is 7-3 in its past 10 games. LeVert might have been a candidate to replace starting shooting guard Allen Crabbe, who had a three-point outing in New Orleans.
“Being on losing streaks like this isn’t fun,” Crabbe said. “It’s not the first time we’ve been on a losing streak. It seems like we win one and then we go in the other direction. We have to find out what works for us and try to stay on a consistent path.”
Crabbe said the starters too often have failed to come out of the gate fast and have allowed the Nets to fall into early holes that are difficult to escape. He agreed a fourth-quarter benching of the starters against the Pelicans sent a message.
“It’s tough to play catch-up,” Crabbe said. “We’re supposed to be the guys who lead the team. If we’re not doing that, we’re kind of putting ourselves in a bad position. We just have to be better, plain and simple. There’s no ifs, ands or buts or excuses . . . We’ve got to bring it every night, and if we’re not doing that, then we’re going to keep getting the same results we’ve been getting.”