The Brooklyn Nets are 2-2 in their last four games and 7-8 since the trade deadline.
With the postseason just 13 games away after their 121-107 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, head coach Jacque Vaughn is trying to get the most out of a group still getting to know one another.
“I kind of went reverse and played the starting five heavy minutes,’’ Vaughn said via the YES Network’s YouTube channel. “There’s something psychological and mental about that. Can you be at the end of a road trip and somehow manage to get a win? Can you play heavy minutes and worry about the next day [on] the next day? So it was a little bit of a challenge for that group…to see how they will respond.”
Vaughn has previously said he was trying to limit some of his starters’ minutes after they were logging plenty leading up to and coming out of the trade deadline.
This is a true reversal of positions for a coach who has been guided by his principles all year.
“That’s what playoff basketball is about,’’ Vaughn said. “You’re going to have to play every other day, and you’re going to play high minutes. Can you get a win? Can you respond the next day? So prepping that a little bit…was kind of my psychological way of looking at it. We just didn’t get it done…So we should have some juice to play.”
The Nets’ new starting five each logged 34-plus minutes in the loss to OKC, just the second time they have done that as a group with both occurrences coming in the last three games – the other was in their overtime win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 10.
Jacque Vaughn Calls Out Nets’ Second-Half Performance
“We didn’t finish the [first] half the right way and then that bled into the third quarter,” Vaughn said of the Nets being outscored 38-20 in the third quarter. “Every single possession for this team matters – every 50-50 ball matters. You got to get dirty, you got to get on the floor, you got to get that possession, you got to take on the battle of boxing out your dude every single time, and you got to come back and help your teammate if your guy doesn’t go to rebound we didn’t do that often enough and we paid for it.”
His message did not fall on deaf ears.
Forward Cameron Johnson – who turned his 39-plus minutes versus the Thunder into 23 points, nine rebounds, three assists, and a steal – echoed that stance on how the Nets have to play.
“We know how we need to play to win,” Johnson said via the YES Network’s channel. “And then sometimes this crappy, gutty, and dirty – we’re not playing pretty out there. And that’s how the game starts to favor us. So I just think we need to get back to that and just you know continue to compete at a high level.”
Johnson has been vocal about the challenges he and the team have faced defensively as they learn each other.
He remains high on their potential going forward.
Nets Sliding Into Danger Zone
The good thing for the Nets is they built up quite the cushion with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, mostly during their 12-game winning streak earlier in the season. But that cushion is evaporating quickly.
Brooklyn had the second-best record in the league behind only the Boston Celtics when Durant went down against the Miami Heat on January 8.
They were fourth in the East when Irving suited up for his last game before demanding a trade.
Now, they would be the six-seed if the playoff began today but are only three losses ahead of the Heat for the final guaranteed playoff spot. They shouldn’t be at risk to fall much lower than that but a best-of-three scenario leaves far less room for error than a standard seven-game playoff series.