When a team has lost 15 of its past 16 games, including 10 in a row, negative numbers abound on the stat sheet. But in their last two losses, the Nets have sunk to a new low on defense, allowing consecutive season highs by an opponent of 132 points by Toronto and 137 by Houston.
That is especially worrisome considering the Nets (8-32) face a rematch with the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors (27-13) tonight at Barclays Center. Not only do the Nets rank last in the NBA in points allowed per game (114.9) and point differential (-9.6), but they are last in those categories by 3.1 points and by 3.3 points, which is a huge statistical gap.
Houston and Toronto attacked the Nets in different ways, but the thing those opponents had in common was great perimeter shooting. The Rockets killed the Nets with 21-for-44 three-point shooting to finish plus-18 points from three-point range, with four players making at least four threes apiece. The Raptors excel at the mid-range game, especially DeMar DeRozan, who had 28 points in three quarters against the Nets before sitting out the fourth period of a blowout. They outscored the Nets in the paint by 22 points.
Comparing the defensive letdowns by the Nets against the Rockets and the Raptors, guard Joe Harris said: “Yeah, it’s really tough when they get a lot of momentum on the offensive end, especially pushing the ball the way [the Rockets] did in transition. Guys are feeding off one another when they’re making shots. Guys are feeding off one another seeing the ball go into the basket.
“The same thing kind of happened to us in Toronto with DeRozan and [Kyle] Lowry, guys who are unbelievable players and especially difficult to defend. When they get room-and-rhythm looks like that and they get a lot of confidence feeding off one another, that makes it tough.”
In both games, the Nets kept pace for a while. But poor shooting often leads to a poor response on the defensive end, especially in terms of transition defense. Harris praised coach Kenny Atkinson for continuing to give his team freedom to take open three-point shots and said they just need to see a few more go in.
“I think the big thing is on the defensive end,” Harris said. “That’s where we’ve got to tighten it up, and that’s where Coach really is getting on guys more than anything.”