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Identity Crisis: Networks Torn Between Breaking Glass And Playing Fast


The most underrated part of any defensive possession is the finish: securing a rebound.

It doesn’t matter how solid the defensive principles are, how long and athletic the court is, how versatile the defenders are, or whether that versatility allows you to switch from one to five defensively.

All defenses will collapse if the opponent has multiple basket attempts on a single possession.

Such is the state of affairs for a Nets team that ranks second to last in rebounding behind only the Dallas Mavericks, who don’t have a true center on the roster.

The Nets only have one, Nic Claxton, who is a lock to play every night. And because the Nets have an aggressive defensive style suited to Claxton’s ability to switch up the defense while also helping from the weak side to block shots at the rim, the Nets are susceptible to getting hit on the offensive glass.

“Yes, we have to accept it. It’s true. He’s staring us in the face,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said after Sunday morning’s loss to the Denver Nuggets.

Two Nuggets players, Nikola Jokic and Michael Porter Jr., combined to outrebound the entire Nets starting lineup.

“The scouting report says to try to get an offensive rebound against the Nets, and we have to understand that and really do a diligent job to continue to try and do it together. We cannot do it with two people, with three people. We show clips at halftime where we literally need all five people to go back and get a piece of somebody,” Vaughn said.

The problem is twofold, though: This isn’t a well-kept secret, and the solution, breaking glass, goes against the core identity of a team built to play fast, come out in transition, and generate offense by shooting an obscene number. of three.

Not to mention, the Nets simply don’t have the personnel: Ben Simmons is a strong rebounder who’s out with a combination of left knee and back pain and doesn’t have a schedule to return, and second-year center Day’ Ron Sharpe: A noted window cleaner, he hasn’t been able to break the rotation.

Vaughn instead opts to play small with Royce O’Neale, Dorian Finney-Smith, or, in rare cases, Yuta Watanabe as a five-way substitute.

It was easier to sweep rebounding struggles under the rug in the guise of highly talented offensive superstars coming back from injury to save the day.

Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, however, aren’t walking through that door, and this is a Nets team that must now be saved as it embarks on a series of games that are projected to determine whether or not Brooklyn will need to compete in the Play – In Tournament to solidify their position as an Eastern Conference playoff team.

“I know we are capable of doing it. We’ve done it before,” said O’Neale, who ranks second on the team in rebounds per game despite his 6-5 stature. “Everyone paying a little more attention to detail, helping Nic out.”

The loss to the Nuggets marked Brooklyn’s third straight and moved the Nets 2.5 games behind the fifth-place Knicks in the conference. More worrisome is the other side of the standings: The loss put Brooklyn just one game ahead of the seventh-seeded Miami Heat, who appear to have turned the corner after a slow start and have won six of their last 10 games.

The Nets arrived Monday with 11 games remaining on the schedule. The next four are brutal for a team with such an obvious weakness in rebounding: The Nets host the Cleveland Cavaliers, who start two 7-footers: Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, two games in a row. They then travel to Miami for a date with Bam Adebayo and the rising Heat before hitting the road to take on Orlando in the second leg of a straight game.

The Magic play five players for 6-10 or more significant minutes, making them a nightmare matchup for the Nets, even if their record indicates otherwise.

“You know how I am: I’m trying to keep our honed guys almost in silos to take care of that day’s game,” Vaughn said when asked to look to the future. “I don’t want our guys to look beyond these next four hours, really, to take care of business against this team. Our hands will be full enough. So I really try to keep our guys from looking ahead and just dealing with today’s work.”

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And while the rebounds traditionally fall to the big man, the Nets don’t have a style of defense that allows their center to stay near the rim for the entire game.

Claxton ranks 16th in the NBA in rebounding with 9.2 boards per game. He is averaging 12.6 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game while shooting just under 60% from the field in the month of March alone.

Little O’Neale, however, is averaging the second most rebounds (6.6) per game this month. Mikal Bridges and Finney-Smith are each averaging four rebounds per game in the team’s last nine games. Bridges had just one rebound in 31 minutes in Sunday’s loss to the Nuggets.

“(We have to) continue to push it, continue to break glass and just figure out our rotations and where we’re going to be to figure out where those rebounds are going to go,” said Cam Johnson, 6-8. he’s averaging 4.4 rebounds per game in Brooklyn but 5.8 rebounds in the team’s last nine games. “We know who our staff are. We had more offensive rebounds than (the Nuggets) today, so it was a better rebounding battle overall compared to last time we played them.”

The Nets, however, are leaning toward being the smaller team trying to win games even if they lose rebounding margin every night. Playing small allows them to play fast and make transition 3s, a point of offensive emphasis now that running midcourt isolation sets through Durant and Irving is no longer an option.

The puzzle, of course, is that prioritizing glass-breaking means the team can’t go out in transition, where they must build offense now that half-court games aren’t as fruitful anymore. The Nets had just two quick break points as they found themselves down 20 going into the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss to Denver.

“Especially when we’re little and Doe or I are five, we all pick ourselves up from the gang,” O’Neale said. “I mean that’s our advantage and playing fast. I don’t know how many quick break points we had, but we need to get a couple more. Playing fast and with rhythm, that’s what we’re good at”.

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