Nets defensive woes fueling current slump

Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden (13) at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 1, 2022; Brooklyn, New York, USA; LA Clippers guard Xavier Moon (15) and Brooklyn Nets guard James Harden (13) at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

In the big picture, the Nets defense has remained one of the best in the league, but over the last three games, they’ve fallen into an alarming trend. The championship-caliber defense that they had been playing has been replaced with an effort that’s left plenty to be desired.

The Nets have the 24th ranked defensive rating over the last three games in the NBA and they’ve had a hard time containing their opponents in crucial moments. The Nets have been outscored by a combined 12 points in the third quarter during that span, which included a major meltdown Monday against the Grizzlies when there were outscored 40-26 in the third.

The Nets struggled to slow down the Grizzlies up-tempo offense led by Ja Morant, who finished with a game-high 36 points. Memphis had five players finish the night in double figures. Even along the boards, the Nets were beaten by the Grizzlies while also getting out-rebounded  62-33.

“We’re a defensive team, believe it or not. Like it or not,” head coach Steve Nash said. “We win with our defense. The defense struggles. It appears it’s the defense, but when you don’t make shots and you give them 24 offensive rebounds, they have a shot discrepancy of 20-ish. That puts a lot of pressure o your defense and we know that can be an Achilles heel for us and we’re not a serious team until we address it. … Hopefully this gives us more ammo to address this going forward.”

Part of the issue has been that the Nets rely on their defense to help create their offense. James Harden described it as the Nets not hanging their hats on defense after Monday’s loss.

The Nets have failed to get the stops they’ve needed to move the ball the other way. Brooklyn has allowed an average of 19 points to opponents on second-chance opportunities and 50.7 points from inside the paint during their current losing streak.

Only the Spurs and Lakers have allowed more second-chance points in the same time frame.

“We gotta go out there and just do it. It’s pretty easy,” Harden said. “And do it consistently. Second, third efforts, having each other’s back. Somebody comes over and helps, the next man helps that person and just be on a string. It hasn’t been that way. We’ve let teams come in here and do what they want, get any shot that they want, and they’re capitalizing.”

Some of the issues should start to iron themselves out with the return of Kyrie Irving on Wednesday. The Nets also seem to be well aware of what needs to be done to stem the tide.

“It’s about coming into the game with a sense of urgency on both ends of the floor and making the correct play on both ends of the floor,” Kevin Durant said. “Defensively especially. Covering for each other, being as one. I think we waited too long to start doing that stuff and we have to start games better.”

They’ll need to get things rolling in the right direction with a packed schedule ahead of them. Brookly will face Indiana on Wednesday on the road before returning to Barclays Center to play Friday, Sunday and then travel to Portland for their rescheduled tilt with the Trail Blazers.

That’s all before the Nets face the first-place Chicago Bulls at United Center next week.