AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Kenny Atkinson likes to look forward, not back.
The Nets coach doesn’t believe in what-ifs and could-have-beens. So when he sees the Nets playing their best basketball of the season in March with a healthy Jeremy Lin on the floor, he refuses to think about what the season could have been if he had Lin and Brook Lopez working with young players all season.
The Nets lost to the Pistons, 90-89, on Thursday night and finished 7-10 in March. Yes, the loss was painful given the fact that Nets gave up 31 points in the fourth quarter. Yet, given that their overall record is 16-59, the Nets can feel fairly good about having a month in which they posted nearly half of their season wins.
“It’s more of a positive vibe going into the summer, a positive momentum,” Atkinson said before the game. “In the NBA you need players to see that they are having a little success. If we had continued to swoon, it would have been tougher.”
It’s good that the Nets take some positives away from this season. Because it’s hard to be too excited about the offseason when the Boston Celtics own your first-round draft picks for the next two years.
But winning does help. It’s not just the players who are benefiting from picking up some wins. Atkinson, who is in his first year as a head coach, admitted he also needed some positive reinforcement, especially after the Nets went winless in February.
“I think it gives me more confidence as a coach,” Atkinson said. “We have some good players that can help us going forward.”
In the short term, Atkinson wasn’t feeling as positive after the game. The Pistons, who are fighting to get into the playoffs and had lost five in a row entering the game, got a go-ahead three-pointer from Ish Smith and some big free throws from Tobias Harris and Marcus Morris down the stretch.
Lopez, who scored just 11 points on 4-for-17 shooting, missed a three-pointer with eight seconds left that would have put the Nets in front.
“I thought they got real comfortable shots. I could have done a better job defensively,” Lopez said. “I forced a lot of stuff tonight and I have to step back and look at it.”
New role for Harris. With the Pistons caught in a sudden downward spiral, there was a lot of pressure for coach Stan Van Gundy to change his starting lineup before Thursday night’s game, with at least a few people wondering why he wasn’t starting Tobias Harris. The former Hills West star was moved to the bench Tuesday to make way for Jon Leuer to reclaim his old starting spot. Harris, the team’s No. 2 scorer, told Newsday before the game that at times it has been a challenging year, but he’s learned a lot. Said Harris: “I keep coming to work every day and trying to figure out what I can do to help my team get better. Everything is a learning process in life and the NBA. There’s going to be ups and downs. You just half to fight through.”