Fast starts will be critical for Nets as they hit home stretch of the season

Brooklyn Nets center Andre Drummond dunks the ball in front of Portland Trail Blazers forward Trendon Watford and guard Josh Hart and forward Drew Eubanks during the first quarter at Barclays Center.
Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets may have allowed the game to get away from them a bit on Friday against the Portland Trail Blazers, but Brooklyn has done one thing consistently over their past eight games going into Monday’s showdown with the Utah Jazz.  And that’s been getting off to hot starts.

Dating back to Brooklyn’s meeting with the Miami Heat on March 3, the Nets have outscored their opponent in the first quarter for eight consecutive contests and have gone 5-3 over that stretch. That included a four-game winning streak that was snapped last week when the Nets lost a heartbreaker to the Dallas Mavericks.

The fast starts have been a point of emphasis for the Nets, going back to the start of training camp. Nets head coach Steve Nash didn’t reiterate it on Sunday during the team’s practice at HSS Training Center in downtown Brooklyn, but it has been a common theme during the course of the year.

“It was one of my four or five notes the night before training camp, that’s how big of a priority it was so we’ve talked about it a lot this year,” Nash said. “Recently we’ve started games very well. Portland was a completely let off, but at Charlotte, at Philly, I’m losing track of all the games we’ve played lately, but we’ve started games pretty well. But historically over the last 15, 16 months we’ve struggled with that and that was a priority going into the season.”

The focus has paid off during Brooklyn’s last eight games, with the Nets scoring 30-plus points in each of those contests. Their 36.3 points per game in the opening quarter dating back to March 3 is the most in the NBA and they’re shooting 58.4% from the field as well. Their shooting percentage along with the Nets’ 46.3% shooting from three-point range also leads the league in that timeframe.

The time has perhaps lined up with a bit of the roster stability the Nets have finally started to see after months of mixing and matching.  While Brooklyn’s lineup isn’t completely free of injuries or changes — the Nets are still Kyrie Irving at home because of vaccine mandates in New York City — there has been time to create some chemistry.

And that has shown on the court. During their eight-game stretch, the Nets were a league-best +79, which was a massive improvement from the -98 they were in the first quarter this season before that.

“We’ve gotta go out there, just take the best five and try to make it work,” Andre Drummond said. “Try to build chemistry while we’re out there. I think we have enough guys – I think the best thing about our team is we have guys that’s experienced, guys who’ve been in the league five, seven-plus years, so I think with that, we’ll be able to figure it out.”

After Monday’s game, the Nets will be down to just 10 games left in the regular season, with important games against Memphis, Miami and Charlotte all ahead of them this week. If the Nets are hoping to come away with some much-needed wins, they’ll need to continue to jump out to fast starts in the opening quarter.