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Defense provides an edge for Nets when shots aren't falling

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie gestures during the second

Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie gestures during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers at Barclays Center on Sunday, Dec. 15, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

SAN ANTONIO — For the fifth straight game, the Nets suffered through another poor shooting night from three-point range in their 108-101 overtime win Tuesday night in New Orleans. Their three-point percentage over that span is .280, yet they went 3-2, which has given rise to a mantra Spencer Dinwiddie repeats after most games.

“I know I sound like a broken record, but it’s the same old thing,” Dinwiddie said after the Nets survived. “If you hold a team to 100, then we have a chance to win.”

As much as the Nets are known for their three-point shooting, the fact is they really have relied on their defense ever since Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert suffered long-term injuries. Over the past 16 games, the Nets have gone 11-5, and they rank ninth in the NBA in opponent’s points per game (105.9) and defensive rating (105.1) compared with 27th (119.5) and 25th (111.0) in those same categories the first 11 games of the season.

The Nets are 9-1 when they hold opponents to 108 points or less, so it’s no secret where their emphasis will lie against the Spurs on Thursday night at AT&T Center. Although the Nets generally play a conservative style of defense, coach Kenny Atkinson lately has encouraged his players to be more aggressive in terms of forcing turnovers. “I think we definitely have the personnel to do so,” Dinwiddie said. “Theo [Pinson] leads our team in deflections, David Nwaba is an elite defender, [Iman Shumpert], while he was here, was a phenomenal boost for us defensively. It’s kind of game-night chemistry, trusting and understanding guys like Jarrett [Allen] are going to be back there protecting us.”

Elite rim protection provided by Allen and DeAndre Jordan has been another critical factor in the Nets’ improved defensive performance. They forced only nine Pelicans turnovers, but they made up for it by equaling their season-high with 10 blocked shots, including six by Allen. Over the past 16 games, the Nets rank second in the NBA in opponent’s field goal percentage (.418) and second in opponent’s percentage in the restricted area (.570).

Some of the defensive numbers the Nets put up against the Pelicans were off the charts. They held the Pelicans scoreless for a span of 8:54 starting from the last 7:30 of the second period. New Orleans missed 19 straight shots and committed three turnovers in that stretch. The Nets held the Pelicans to .235 first-half shooting percentage —  their best showing in a decade, — a season-low 35 first-half points and a season-low .343 percentage for the game.

Despite playing such great defense, the Nets shot so poorly that they still had to go into overtime to win.

“I think the shots will definitely come,” said Joe Harris, who had 24 points, including 5-for-9 three-point shooting. “We have a lot of good shooters in this locker room. What’s really encouraging is that when you play that solid defensively, you give yourself a chance to win. That’s the most important thing.”

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