Nets need to find their ‘edge’ defensively if they hope to make this season count

Detroit Pistons forward Saddiq Bey looks to pass the ball against Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant and forward Nic Claxton during the third quarter at Barclays Center.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Putting up points wasn’t the Nets’ biggest issue on Tuesday night, keeping the ball out of their own basket was. Brooklyn was able to survive against the Detroit Pistons, but when it comes to the NBA’s heavy hitters the Nets can’t expect to get as lucky.

Especially with the high-flying Milwaukee Bucks coming to Brooklyn on Thursday. The Nets’ defensive woes have been an ongoing topic of conversation and reared their ugly head in back-to-back games.

Brooklyn has surrendered 110 or more points in five of their last seven games and has allowed their opponents to score an average of 112.1 points per game this season. And the Nets’ defense struggled to contain the Pistons’ shooting on Tuesday night in the first half of the game.

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“I don’t think it’s ever good for a team to score that many points in a basketball game,” Andre Drummond said when asked about the Nets surrendering as many points as they did on Tuesday. “I think for us it’s just buckling down defensively in the beginning of the game and not waiting until the second half cause that can come bite us in the butt. And we won’t be able to come back.”

That has happened to the Nets far more than they would have liked this season and Brooklyn can seldom afford to let any games slip away from them at the moment. Brooklyn bore down in the second half and held Detroit to less than 60 points after giving up 64 through the first 24 minutes.

Nets head coach Steve Nash has described what’s ailed the Nets’ defensive consistency as “how much edge” they play with it. He cited the efforts against Miami and Utah — both games where they held their opponent below the 110 point mark — as examples of when his squad had played with that edge.

“I think when we play with edge we’re a much better team defensively,” Nash said. “When we take our foot off the gas a little bit, we’re not good enough just to roll out there and shut people down.”

What Nash didn’t have an answer for was how the team finds that edge consistently instead of just for portions of a game. To the second-year head coach, the answer lies within the locker room more so than anything he can do or say.

It was something that Kyrie Irving agreed with.

“Just trust the game plan and being on the same page, and gearing up for what the postseason will look like for us,” Irving said. “I think it just comes down to trust and Steve is right in terms of the edge and playing with that constantly. It’s just continuously making adjustments and being comfortable with that and following with the game. But we’re going to have to make our staple as a team on the defensive end.

“If we’re going along in a shooting contest, obviously we’ll still be in the game, but sometimes those games can be back and forth and lead to mistakes on our end.”

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What’s been clear this year has been the success Brooklyn can have when they are able to defend well. The Nets are 26-3 this season when they hold their opponents below 110 points and 14-1 when they keep them under 40% shooting from the field.

The Nets know that won’t be an easy feat with the Bucks, who boast the fourth highest-scoring offense in the NBA averaging 114.9 points per game. Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 29.9 points per game and 55.2% shooting is also hard to shut down for any club.

“He’s one of those players that established themselves that his points are almost absolute,” Kevin Durant said about Antetokounmpo. “It’s about playing physical, making it as tough as you can. Also from top to bottom, their whole team, they got a great team that play well off each other with continuity. It’s much more than Giannis, but his points they going to happen, so you just have to make them as tough as possible.”