Three days, two games (that don’t actually count), and a long way to go, but the Brooklyn Nets are feeling pretty good so far. Part of that is the collection of new faces in the locker room. Part of it is the optimism and confidence of those returning.
The Nets took the court at Barclays Center Thursday night for the first time after opening the preseason at the Knicks on Tuesday. Like Tuesday, they registered a comfortable double-digit win, this time topping the Miami Heat, 107-88.
“You like the vibe and like the chemistry that we have, said Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the senior Net as he begins his third season in Brooklyn. “It will continue to grow. And then we’ll just work on the kinks when that day comes and see how we handle adversity. I think we have great leadership here.”
Unlike Tuesday, when Brooklyn was down double digits in the first quarter, the Nets took a 10-point lead after a quarter and were up 59-45 at halftime. Their biggest lead was 20 points in the second half.
“We started out the game with a defensive mindset,” said coach Kenny Atkinson. “That first group against the Knicks, they scored 32 points in the first quarter. We can’t have quarters like that. I think the goal was just to be more consistent defensively, do it every quarter.”
The first glimpse of the Nets’ backcourt on Tuesday had Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell starting the game together before taking turns with point guard responsibilities while the other rested. While Russell led all scorers in the preseason opener, this time it was Lin with a team-high 16 points for Brooklyn, shooting 5-of-7 from the field and 2-of-3 from 3-point range.
Over the first two games there’s been consistent order to how Atkinson has deployed the Nets’ bench in the early going, although minutes were extended for the starters relative to the preseason opener.
The Nets have eight returning players who averaged at least 20 minutes per game last season, and that doesn’t include Quincy Acy, who looks headed for a larger role this year. Then they added Russell, DeMarre Carroll, Timofey Mozgov, Allen Crabbe and rookie Jarrett Allen.
This has the makings of a very deep roster.
“Very positive,” said Atkinson. “You feel the difference already. We haven’t started the regular season, so we have to be cautious. But I do feel we have stronger 1 through 15.”
The biggest turnaround may be at the point guard spot, where last season the Nets lost Greivis Vasquez, then Lin, and struggled for an answer after that. But with the way Spencer Dinwiddie improved over the second half of last season, and the addition of Russell, there’s a real depth there.
It’s echoed through the roster. And it’s something Atkinson is counting on.
“It’s going to be a balanced effort,” said Atkinson. “One night it’s going to be DeMarre. One night it’s going to be, who knows, Jarrett Allen. We’ve got to do it as a group and it’s going to be different guys every night.
“Where we need to hold them accountable is defensively. The offense, the way it flows, it flows to different people. We’re not a, call this guy’s number every time because he’s having a hot night or he’s a good player. It works out, hopefully we’ll have good balance.”
With Allen Crabbe and Caris LeVert still out, Atkinson played 11 players over the first three quarters before Isaiah Whitehead and Tyler Zeller got opportunities in the fourth.
Atkinson and Carroll have a history. Two years together in Atlanta, including a 60-win season that saw the Hawks grab the top seed in the East. After two seasons in Toronto, Carroll has rejoined Atkinson in Brooklyn. And it’s quickly become apparent he’s going to be a core player.
“He’s a glue guy. He’s solid as a rock,” said Atkinson. “You can trust him. Especially defensively. I think he sets a tone. His physicality. He knows what it takes. When other teams start getting physical he understands the nuances of the game. Hopefully when we look back on this year, it was a big, big signing getting him because I think his leadership and defensive mindset, being an efficient offensive player, it’s great. Lastly, just knowing what the heck we’re doing, it’s seamless.”
BY THE NUMBERS
After making 7-of-14 3-point attempts in the first quarter, the Nets made 3-of-16 the rest of the way to finish 10-of-30, 33 percent. Sean Kilpatrick had 14 points after scoring 15 on Tuesday. Carroll, Hollis-Jefferson, Mozgov and Booker had eight rebounds apiece. The 26 turnovers were the glaring negative in the box score.