WASHINGTON — Winter has come early for the Nets, who have succumbed to long downward spirals midway through each of the past two rebuilding seasons under general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson. That’s where they find themselves again in season three of their rebuild.
In this particular case, bad things came in sixes for the Nets. They lost their sixth straight game, 102-88, to the Wizards on Saturday night at Capital One Center, and it marked their sixth loss in as many attempts on the end of a back-to-back set.
The Nets (8-16) are in a tailspin in which they have lost nine of 11 games. They barely mustered any offense against the Wizards, shooting 37.0 percent overall and 24.2 percent from three-point range. Allen Crabbe was high scorer with a mere 14 points. Guards Spencer Dinwiddie, D’Angelo Russell and Shabazz Napier had eight points each and shot a combined 8-for-30.
“We did a decent job on the defensive end,” Atkinson said. “Obviously, we didn’t shoot the ball well. I think their switching bothered us, quite honestly. Our shot selection has got to improve. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board . . . Our offensive efficiency has really slipped.”
By contrast, the Wizards (9-14) shot 51.9 percent from the field and got 30 points and nine assists from John Wall, 22 points from Bradley Beal and 20 points from Markieff Morris, who netted 15 in the final period.
Asked immediately after the game what he saw that triggered his fourth-quarter explosion, Morris said, “They were playing small ball — too small — and we took advantage.”
The Nets cut a 15-point deficit to eight, but Morris scored nine points in a 12-0 run to push it to 93-73 before the start of garbage time. Told of Morris’ comment, Atkinson said: “When we’re behind . . . you play smaller. We tried switching everything, which we haven’t done a ton of, and he went off and scored points. The majority of the time, we had a big on him. It was either Jarrett Allen or Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] on him, and those guys did not do a good enough job defending him. When we started switching, he took D’Angelo in the post and scored twice. But he scored mostly on our bigs.”
Both teams were playing the second game of a back-to-back set, but the Nets were mired in a five-game losing streak that included three straight games in which they blew double-digit leads in the second half. This time it was the Nets who trailed by 12 points before hitting three three-pointers in a 13-4 run to close the opening half and cut their deficit to three.
The notion that they might have generated some momentum evaporated as soon as the teams returned from intermission. The Wizards opened with an 11-0 run to take a 53-39 lead, and it was all downhill from there. The Nets never got closer than six points again.
“We really lost the game, the first unit in that first five minutes in the third quarter,” Dinwiddie said. “It was 42-39 at halftime. We weren’t hitting shots, but our defense had held up. The first five minutes, it got away. They got a lead, and that’s the cushion they maintained.”
In Russell’s view, the Nets’ latest losing streak doesn’t compare to the 6-25 stretch they endured last season. “We could have easily won more than half of those games,” he said of the past 10 losses. “We’ve played some of the best teams in the league, as well, and been right there. That’s something to build on . . . I feel like we beat ourselves in a lot of games versus the other team beating us.”