The Nets have won 10 of their first 15 games and sit atop the Atlantic Division. So at first glance, things are going well in Brooklyn, but there’s a common theme in their losses.
The quality of the opponent.
With high expectations entering the season, just winning games isn’t what the Nets are seeking. Three of their five losses have come to stronger Eastern Conference foes — the Heat, Bulls and defending champion Bucks — and then a 117-99 home loss to Golden State Tuesday. These are the type of teams they could see in a best-of-seven series.
But if you ask coach Steve Nash, maybe the Nets aren’t ready to be considered in the top tier after falling in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season.
"Well, I just don't think we're in that category yet," Nash said. "We got a lot of work to do. We’re trying to improve as a group, get better and hopefully we can find a way to overcome some of our deficiencies by the end of the year."
The Nets’ 10 victories have come against teams with a combined win percentage of .376 (53-88). In comparison, their losses have come to teams with a combined win percentage of .634 (45-26).
Kevin Durant hopes they can learn from the losses against high-quality teams, especially the loss on Tuesday night.
"It’s everything you can look at," Durant said. "Just the details of the game that we can get better at, be more consistent with, and I think that’s every team’s goal — to be more consistent and eliminate mistakes from your repertoire. And we’re on that journey right now. It was a great test for us."
Nash is pleased with improvements on the defensive end, which had been strong before allowing 117 points to Golden State Tuesday — its most since the season-opening 127-104 loss to Milwaukee. The Nets entered Wednesday ranked ninth in the league in scoring defense (allowing 104.4 points per game) as opponents are shooting a sixth-lowest 43.1% from the field.
"I think the guys have been great as far as buying into what we want to do defensively," Nash continued. "No one would have picked us as a Top 10 defense to start the year, and we’re defending, we’re finding a way. I think offensively we have all these different lineups, different backgrounds, styles of play, 10 new players on our team. It takes time."
James Harden doesn’t know what to take out of the early-season losses against some of the perceived top teams.
"We're just trying to get better every game," Harden said. "… I don't think anybody knows themselves well. Maybe [Golden State], because they've been together for a long time. But this league, you see every single night there's upsets or whatnot."
The Nets have dealt with their share of lineup turnover, including a left ankle sprain to Joe Harris. Nash said the guard will miss "a few games." Veteran forward Paul Millsap missed his third straight game Wednesday for "personal reasons" as the team continues to search for its identity.
"There’s no fast answer to that," Nash said. "It’s something that we have to monitor, we have to nudge, we have to provoke and continue to work at and refine. And like the defense, I think the guys overall have worked at it and have shown some improvements. But also then there’s [Tuesday] night where we took a step back. In a way, can [Tuesday] night be a benefit to us in that it shows us the amount of ground we need to continue to make up and the amount of diligence we need to strive for those principles we’ve set?"