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New-look Nets learning how to play with targets on their backs

Devonte' Graham #4 of the Charlotte Hornets drives

Devonte' Graham #4 of the Charlotte Hornets drives to the basket against Jarrett Allen #31 and Kyrie Irving #11 of the Brooklyn Nets during the third quarter of their game at Spectrum Center on December 27, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Credit: Getty Images/Jared C. Tilton

Three games into the new season was all it took for the Nets to encounter their first bump in the road during a 106-104 loss to the Hornets Sunday night at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Two statistics defined their problems – the 64-26 disadvantage they suffered in points in the paint and their 19 turnovers leading to 23 Hornets points.

But the Nets didn’t have to wait long for a shot at redemption because they faced the Grizzlies in the second game of a back-to-back set Monday night at Barclays Center. New coach Steve Nash actually welcomed an early dose of adversity for a team that is just growing accustomed to learning how to play around healthy stars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.

"Less than 30 days in here, we’re still trying to find ourselves and figure out who we are," Nash said. "They’ve been exceptional thus far with their effort and engagement. Tonight, was a little bit of a letdown, but that’s going to happen. It can’t be perfect all the time.

"Maybe it was a step below their usual effort, usual tentativeness and engagement, but a lot of good things, too. If you approach them with the right attitude and bounce back and you learn your lessons, that’s the resolve and growth we’re looking for in this process."

One player who provided notable energy down the stretch was backup center Jarrett Allen. He checked into the game with 4:11 remaining in the third period, replacing starter DeAndre Jordan, who totaled 12 rebounds but only one point and took just two field goal attempts.

Allen has been working hard to prove himself to Nash since losing the starting job to Jordan immediately after Kenny Atkinson was fired in March. "It’s definitely disappointing," Allen said of the loss to the Hornets. "Take Charlotte out of it. I know we could have played better. I know we could have come out and had a lot more energy. I know we weren’t playing to our full potential.

"Being in the position we are now with KD and Kyrie back and we’re a full team, we’re definitely going to have the target on the back every single game. We’re definitely going to get every single team’s 100 percent. So, we have to come out there ready every single time."

Following the loss, Durant blamed himself for grabbing only three rebounds and not being as aggressive on the defensive end as he was in the first two blowout wins. But he had nothing but good things to say about the impact Allen made in the late stages to help the Nets rally within two points before Durant missed a potential tying basket with seven seconds left.

"It’s good to have that target on your back," said Durant, who has lived with that his entire career. "It’s going to bring the best out of you. I think Jarrett was incredible tonight. And he’s just getting better and better each and every day."

Referring to the quick turnaround against the Grizzlies, Durant added, "We are playing against another young, athletic team that is going to test us on both sides of the ball. It’s all about these small tests early in the season. We’ll see how we handle it."

As for his late missed shot under pressure, that happens, but Durant admitted it felt good to be in the fire after 18 months of rehab for his torn Achilles tendon. "It was good to play in a fourth-quarter game again," Durant said. "Play a game that we had to fight uphill and claw back to get back into the game and make it a late game. They made more plays than us, but it was fun playing in that environment again."

New York Sports