Here are five thoughts from the Nets’ 125-106 loss to the Bulls at Barclays Center on Friday night.
1. This was a bad loss
The Nets have been uneven as of late. 2-5 in their last 7 games, after going 8-2 in the 10 games prior. We’ve discussed the injury bug, which has certainly impacted this team, and the need for the all-star break to get some rest and recharge. Regardless, last night’s loss to the Bulls was a bad one. Chicago is one of the worst teams in the league, they are 29 games under .500. Yes, it’s true that all NBA teams have talent, and on any given night even the best teams can be beaten. But, for a team like the Nets with designs of making the playoffs, they need to beat the teams they are supposed to.
From the opening tip, the Bulls had more energy and beat the Nets to the ball. The Bulls were quicker, hungrier, and honestly, they looked like a team with young talent poised to make the playoffs.
As the league’s new “upstarts” the Nets will have to contend with teams coming into Brooklyn looking to put a damper on the feel-good story and test the Nets and see if it’s hype or if this team is for real. The Nets have proven all season they can play with and beat the better teams in the league. The next step in their development is bringing that same energy consistently on a nightly basis.
Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson discusses the loss and the team’s mindset postgame.
2. The defense was poor
The Nets gave up 30+ points in three of the four quarters Friday night. The Bulls shot 54% from the field and 50% from three. That type of defense is not going to cut it. The Nets were slow with their rotations and late getting out to shooters. Head coach Kenny Atkinson even employed a zone in the second half to change things up, but Lauri Markkanen and Otto Porter were zone busters. Both players combined to go 8-12 from three.
Defense is largely a communication and effort “thing”. Both were lacking from the Nets on Friday for whatever reason. This doesn’t appear to be a situation where the Nets looked past the Bulls after having defeated the Nuggets on Wednesday and playing the Raptors on Monday. They just didn’t come out with intensity and it’s likely due to fatigue.
Jarrett Allen postgame on the team’s loss.
3. It’s a make or miss league and Rodions Kurucs is struggling
The Nets did not shoot it well on Friday night. It is often said the NBA is a “make or miss league”. The implication being that, plays can be drawn up perfectly and the right defense can be called for a situation, but at the end of the day it comes down to players making or missing shots.
The Nets shot 41% from the field and took 41 threes, connecting on only 13 for a 31.7% conversion rate. Give the Bulls some credit, but the Nets missed a ton of wide open looks as well. Over the course of the Nets uneven play lately has been uneven shooting. No surprise there.
During this same stretch of uneven play, rookie Rodions Kurucs has come back to earth. This is nothing surprising or to be particularly worried about. It happens with all rookies and young players. The rigors, speed, and grind of the NBA season are a lot to manage. Over his last 10 games, Kurucs is averaging less than 8 points a game and shooting under 37% from the field. Again, slumps are common for rookies and young players. But the Nets want to be a playoff team and in order for that to happen, the collective will have to play well, and that included Kurucs.
4. Caris LeVert is back
Welcome back, welcome back, WEL-COME back. The return of LeVert from injury was a welcome addition last night despite the loss. LeVert didn’t force things during his stint in the first quarter and was active on defense throughout the half registering three steals. In the second half, he was more aggressive and displayed the athleticism and ability that had many projecting him as an all-star this season. He finished with 11 points, 2 rebounds, 4 assists, and 5 steals. His legs weren’t quite underneath him on his shots, but that will come.
This is the ideal time for LeVert to rejoin the squad. The Nets have two more games before the break, at Toronto, and at Cleveland. LeVert’s minutes will likely ramp up over these two games, and during the break, he will continue to get his conditioning up.
The 10 games immediately after the break will be challenging but there will be enough winnable games that LeVert can work his way back into heavier minutes and the starting lineup. Then there is the final 13 game stretch of the season (10 road games) beginning with a game at Oklahoma City on March 13th that will likely decide the Nets playoff fate. They will need LeVert playing to his pre-injury potential to navigate that gauntlet.
Following the game, LeVert spoke to the media about being back on the floor with his teammates.
5. Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine are good
If the Bulls weren’t such a dumpster fire of an organization, the future would look bright. The 21-year-old Markkaen finished with 31 points, 18 rebounds and was a +17. He was a terror all night. The Nets had no answer for him on the boards and on the block. He also hit on 4-7 from three. The 23-year-old LaVine was just as effective, finishing with 26 points, 5 assists, and a +12 rating. When the Nets made it somewhat close (9 points) in the fourth, LaVine took over. He attacked the Nets defense off the dribble and got to the rim at will.
Building a team around LaVine, Markkanen and Wendell Carter Jr (rookie, who is injured) seems to make a lot of sense. If the Bulls can somehow manage to get out of their own way, this could be a team to reckon with in the future.