“We all know the math and we see the ranking” – The Denver Post
When the Nets last faced the Denver Nuggets on March 12, the game plan was clear:
Forcing MVP favorite Nikola Jokic to take on more offensive responsibility and withdraw his assist.
Jokic finished with 35 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists on the night, but the Nuggets lost a 22-point lead. The Nets allowed just three other Denver players to score in double figures, edged the Nuggets by 19 points in the third quarter and earned a 122-120 victory – an unlikely result on the road against a team that is expected to become a Western Conference champion this season.
But will it work again now that the cat is out of the bag?
Opponents can ill afford to ease off against this resilient Nets team.
Just as the Nets can’t afford to believe that the same game plan that allowed the Nuggets to build a 22-point lead in the first place will win against a motivated Denver team this time around, albeit in the second game of a back-to-back after their six-point loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
“We always talk about the need to have a formula or a strategy to get into the game,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said after practice at the HSS Training Center in Industry City on Saturday. “I said to the guys yesterday: some guys get up and you don’t throw to them, so we have to have a strategy of who we’re going to throw to, and this game we said we were going to let Jokic do what he did. he was doing and see if we can find a compromise with the other guy, then we’ll see if that formula is the same for us.
“[Denver is a] smart team. They will make some adjustments. What I liked was that we played high energy, rushed, very scrappy, all of the above, played small. So those things we’ll probably see again.
Jokic, however, is cut from the same Nets kryptonite cloth as Domantas Sabonis, the All-Star forward who had 24 points and 21 rebounds in Brooklyn’s home loss to the Sacramento Kings on Thursday. The Nets have traditionally struggled with dominant big men who use sheer strength and brute force to force their way to the edge for rebounds and field goals.
It’s an area the team has attempted to address twice with backup center Day’Ron Sharpe on the outside of the rotation. The Nets weren’t sold on Nerlens Noel after his 10-day contract expired and pivoted to 7-foot-2 center Moses Brown, who just signed a 10-day contract with the Knicks and will is coaching with the Nets on Saturday.
Brown, for reference, towers over Sharpe, who is rated 6-foot-11. Vaughn didn’t commit to using Brown as quickly as he used Noel, who played immediately after signing his 10-day contract.
“I’ll see how the games turn out. We want to see him get quality minutes at some point. I did it quite early with Nerlens to provide us with answers quickly. But he’ll find a way to get a few minutes for sure,” Vaughn said of Brown. “He’s just tall. He’s just a big rim body for us, but a nimble guy. As if he could run the floor. Young, 23, has the ability to stand up and bend down. But at the end of the day, he’s a great dude.
It’s unfair, of course, to expect Brown – who was undrafted in 2019 and played minutes for five different NBA teams – to have much of an impact checking out title-winning Jokic. of MVP each of the past two years.
It’s also unfair to expect the Nets to have as much success against the Nuggets as they did in their last outing.
Denver is home to the best record in the Western Conference. They have the second-best offensive rating in all of basketball behind the same Kings team that won at Barclays Center on Thursday, rank second in assist percentage, first in assist-to-rotation ratio and fourth in rebounding percentage. They’re shooting the second-best three-point percentage in all of basketball and, of course, are led by presumptive MVP Jokic, who is set to join Wilt Chamberlain as the only player to win three MVPs. in a row.
And they led by 22 before admitting they had eased off and let the Nets come back to win in Denver.
More importantly, Sunday’s morning game is the second game in a six-game streak that could define Brooklyn’s season.
The Knicks’ victory over the Nuggets on Saturday put them two games ahead of the Nets for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. The seventh-seeded Miami Heat entered the weekend 1.5 games behind the Nets before facing another playoff prospect, the Chicago Bulls, on Saturday.
The nets are sandwiched between the two, hanging on to the comfort that comes with the sixth seed by a thread. If they drop to seventh place, they will have to enter the Play-In tournament, which means a sudden-death showdown between playoff hopefuls where the winners move up to the seventh and eighth playoff seeds and the losers come in. at their home.
The Nets lost the first game of their streak to the No. 2 Kings on Thursday. It’s Jokic’s Nuggets on Sunday, two straight games against Donovan Mitchell’s Cleveland Cavaliers after that, then a back-to-back road first to Miami against the Heat, then to Orlando against the long and athletic Magic the following night.
“We all know the math and we see the standings,” Spencer Dinwiddie said after practice on Saturday. “Everybody knows that.”
Vaughn, however, joked that the first thing he thought when he woke up Saturday morning was that he wasn’t going to look any further than Sunday’s game against the Nuggets. He doesn’t want his team to look too far ahead because there are too many variables that could be in play between now and the season finale against the Philadelphia 76ers on April 9.
“I really want them to focus on our next game, which is Denver, and that’s all that consumes them. Because that’s enough,” he said. so that we have enough problems to deal with, so we don’t want to exacerbate it by putting more pressure, nothing more and more of the game.”
This, of course, is the time of the season when every game comes with added pressure. In Brooklyn, each loss will send the Nets closer and closer to sudden-death Play-In Tournament territory.
It’s the last place a team without superstars like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving wants to be, especially for a team like the Nets, who are still working through problems with their offense late in the game.