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Nets very much a work in progress

Nets guard Deron Williams (8) drives the ball

Nets guard Deron Williams (8) drives the ball around Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) during the first half of a preseason game on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014 at Barclays Center. Photo Credit: AP / Kathy Kmonicek

Deron Williams waited for Mason Plumlee to slip around his defender in the paint, making eye contact with the big man before tossing the ball toward the hoop for an alley-oop.

But Plumlee never even got a fingertip on it, much to the dismay of Williams. Plumlee, who started at center for the Nets with Brook Lopez (right midfoot sprain) and Kevin Garnett (stomach virus) unavailable, didn't flow away from Williams properly, and the point guard made sure he let the second-year pro know he was playing too stagnantly.

"Move!'' Williams shouted.

If there was a meaningful microcosm for the Nets on this afternoon at Barclays Center, it was that play early in the first quarter. Their timing was off for the better part of Sunday's 95-90 preseason loss to the Celtics, and the Nets' play in the paint was severely lacking.

They didn't have it going inside without their two key big men. The Celtics outrebounded the Nets 50-42 and racked up 20 second-chance points. Proper positioning on both sides of the ball remains a work in progress, too.

Who knows what the margin might have been if the game hadn't been part of an NBA experiment in which the teams played four 11-minute quarters instead of the usual 12.

Nets coach Lionel Hollins wants to see a little more muscle from his big men. "You've got to be tougher. That's all,'' he said. "You've got to hit first. You know, you will get pushed under the basket if you just stand there and watch.''

The absence of Lopez and Garnett, who's a vocal presence and a guy who crashes the boards hard, gave Hollins an opportunity to get a good look at how Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic might fare on the floor together. But they totaled nine points and 10 rebounds and shot 4-for-14.

"We need a rebounder,'' Hollins said. "We need one of those big guys to be a primary rebounder, and with those two guys you mentioned earlier out, I was hoping [Plumlee] would come out and show a big splash on the glass. But he didn't.''

Screen rotations were a step slow. Defenders didn't bark out commands. Keeping the Celtics away from the offensive glass was a major problem, too.

Joe Johnson is sure those issues can be cleaned up, but he knows it's imperative for everyone to remain disciplined on the court.

"I think everybody has a pretty good idea of where they should be on both ends of the floor,'' Johnson said. "It's just about going out and doing it when you get a little fatigued and your legs get heavy. Whether it's boxing out or running plays offensively and not turning the ball over, those are things you have to check yourself, because when you get tired, you start to cut corners, so to speak.

"So I saw we tried to cut a few corners tonight, and we got burned defensively, and offensively we turned the ball over.''


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