Defensive Issues, Not Elite Point Guards an Issue for the Nets

Minnesota Timberwolves v Brooklyn Nets

It wasn’t the type of performance the Nets grew accustomed to from the opposing point guard throughout the week, but the shoddy defense remained the same.

Brooklyn (4-9) continued a troublesome trend, allowing 129 points to a struggling Portland Trail Blazers (8-7) team that – much like the Nets – was coming into Sunday’s game on a three-game losing streak. In fact, Portland’s All-Star point guard Damian Lillard called out the entire roster earlier in the week, saying that the team simply “sucks” right now.

In three previous games before Sunday, the Nets allowed 124, 125, and 127 points in losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Lakers, and Clippers. Sure, the Nets are playing short-handed without Jeremy Lin and a revolving door at point guard, but the team’s entire defensive schematic was off kilter last week.

“I thought before this game we were doing a decent job defending the three-point shot, but that wasn’t the case tonight,” Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson said after Sunday’s loss. “We’re plugging holes right now defensively, leaking in different places.”

Entering Sunday’s game, Portland’s defense was allowing 0.4 more points per game than Brooklyn’s 112. However, after the loss, the Nets sit in 29th place with opponents averaging 113.3 against its depleted squad – the only team worse is the Phoenix Suns with its 114.9 points allowed per game.

On Monday, the Clippers, led by Chris Paul and his 21 points and nine assists, trounced Brooklyn 127-95 at the Staples Center. The next night, D’Angelo Russell exploded for 32 points in a 125-118 Lakers win. Then on Friday, Russell Westbrook notched his fourth triple-double of the season (30 points, 13 assists, and 11 rebounds) in 124-105 Thunder win.

Los Angeles Clippers v Oklahoma City Thunder

Lillard got the ball rolling early on Sunday, tossing up a circus shot on the Trail Blazers’ first possession of the game, somehow managing to score and getting to the free throw line for a three-point play. He was tearing apart the Nets defense and entered halftime with 16 points. But he only scored two points in the second half as C.J. McCollum’s 33 points (six of 10 from three-point range) and the Portland bench’s 58-point contribution turned a close game into a laugher.

“We had more of a presence on the ball,” Lillard said of Portland’s strong third quarter. “The first half I think we had trouble controlling the ball and from top to bottom guys were taking it from the perimeter and getting it to the rim, from [Sean] Kilpatrick to [Brook] Lopez.”

The Nets’ poor performance in the third quarter in Friday’s loss carried over into Sunday. They were down by six at halftime but trailed 99-84 after the third quarter, which kept Lillard on the bench for the entire last quarter. Similarly, on Friday, the Nets were down 96-82 after three and OKC did not need Westbrook for the fourth.

“I just think we come [out] flat,” Brook Lopez, who contributed 21 points and six rebounds on Sunday, said of the team’s third quarter issues. “I think it’s on us 100 percent. I mean, I don’t think you can look at the other teams. We’ve had a variety of different guys, and the play differently. I think that one is on us for sure.”

Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets

Nets point guard Isaiah Whitehead, coming off a concussion, scored a career-high 11 points on Sunday. He attributed the team’s defensive woes to a “lack of communication” and the need for more “energy” coming out of halftime -- and there seems to be a disconnect among the team in its perceived effort.

“It’s not any one person, glaring, obviously – it’s just team-wide, whatever it is,” Lopez said of Brooklyn’s issues. “But I don’t think you can fault our effort or energy.”

After a five-game road trip, the Nets were back home Sunday and will enjoy six of their next eight games at home. In that time, they expect Lin to return from his ailing hamstring and get back on track. Sunday’s loss put Brooklyn’s record at Barclays Center at 3-3 for the season but practicing at home and regrouping will be key moving forward.

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