If the Nets hope to avoid Tournament Play-In and retain their position as an undisputed playoff team, they’ll have to solve their rebounding problem.
He’s an Achilles heel for a team still clinging to postseason hopes after the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving trades.
The Nets can stop and sometimes put together a quality offense, but their lack of real depth in the back five and real size in the frontcourt leaves them open to being outplayed on the glass.
They rank second to last in rebounding in all of basketball ahead only of the centerless Dallas Mavericks.
“We have to accept it. It’s true,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said after the game. “He is staring us in the face. 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 of trying to continue to do this together. We cannot do it with two or three people.”
Such was the case with the Nets’ 108-102 loss to a Denver Nuggets team that ranks in the middle of the pack in window cleaning this season. The Nets made a concerted effort to break the glass in the first quarter, but for Brooklyn it’s a work in progress.
For the Nuggets, rebounding is in their DNA. Nikola Jokic is a 7-foot rebounding machine, Aaron Gordon has the build of a bodybuilder, and Michael Porter Jr. uses his athleticism to play fair around the rim.
Those three Nuggets outrebounded the entire Nets roster through the first three quarters of what turned into an explosive game entering the final period. Jokic finished with 25 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists and Porter Jr. added 28 points and nine rebounds.
Here’s the concerning part: This is far from an isolated incident.
The Nets were outscored by 16 rebounds in their home loss to the Sacramento Kings, whose All-Star Domantas Sabonis finished with 24 points and 21 rebounds. They were outrebounded by another middle team in their loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and they were outrebounded, 49-28, in their road win over the Nuggets last time out.
The Nets stunned the Nuggets with a 22-point comeback that night. This time they were not so lucky.
“I think it’s the opportunities where we can control the rebounds. We have to. So, for example, the other night against Sacramento: Kevin Huerter can’t rebound offensively against us. Kessler Edwards can’t rebound offensively against us. Davion Mitchell can’t rebound offensively against us,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said before kickoff Sunday.
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“Sabonis, he’s going to have his only because he’s bigger, stronger and that’s the way things are. Jokic, unfortunately, will get a few offensive rebounds tonight. It will happen. Can you remove some of those where maybe that guy isn’t as big as you are? And then he’s not as compensated as Jokic gets the number of offensive rebounds out of him.
“But we still want everyone to come back, hit each other, help each other, this is going to be a rebounding community. The parallel, the silos, cannot pass. We all have to interact and intersect and come back and recover. You can’t just be a shooter and not bounce. You can’t just be a driver and not bounce. You can’t just be great and not bounce back. Everyone has to come and recover.”
And with strong rebounding teams remaining in each of the Nets’ next four games – games that will define their ranking and thus their season – the pressure is on Brooklyn to find a way to win despite their greatest shortcoming. .
The Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat and Orlando Magic are shaping up to be bigger and stronger teams than the Nets in and around the paint. In Cleveland, it’s the combination of the two 7-footers: Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. In Miami, All-Star center Bam Adebayo is always a pain in the ass, and Orlando is the breeding ground for the NBA’s next best experiment with five players who are 6’10” or taller, each of whom plays significant minutes, including Rookie of the Year favorite Paolo Banchero and 7’2″ phenom Bol Bol.
Mikal Bridges gave the Nets 23 points on 8-for-18 shooting but recorded just one rebound in 31 minutes of play. Dorian Finney-Smith shot just one of five from the field and compounded those shooting woes with just three rebounds. Day’Ron Sharpe grabbed five rebounds in eight minutes of garbage time and the highest net on the list, Moses Brown, did not play in the first available game of his 10-day contract.
Vaughn has been preaching that all players, not just starting center Nic Claxton, should prioritize breaking glass. Claxton finished with eight rebounds in 31 minutes.
That low number led the entire Nets in rebounding, an area Brooklyn must address as they try to avoid the Play-In Tournament.