If the Nets hope to avoid the Play-In tournament and maintain their status as an undisputed playoff team, they will need to solve their rebounding problem.
He’s the Achilles’ heel for a team still clinging to postseason aspirations after the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving trades.
The Nets can get stops and generate quality offense at times, but their lack of real depth at the five and real size in the front court makes them susceptible to being outplayed on the glass.
They rank second to last in rebounding in all of basketball, behind only the Dallas Mavericks without a center.
“We have to accept that. It’s the truth,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said after the game. “He looks us in the face. The scouting report says we have to try to rebound offensively against the Nets and we have to understand that and really do a diligent job of trying to continue to put that together. We can’t do this with two or three people.”
Such was the case in the Nets’ 108-102 loss to a Denver Nuggets team that’s in the middle of nowhere in cleaning the glass this season. The Nets made a concerted effort to crash the glass in the first quarter, but for Brooklyn, it’s a work in progress.
For the Nuggets, comebacks are in their DNA. Nikola Jokic is a 6-foot rebounder, Aaron Gordon is built like a bodybuilder, and Michael Porter Jr. uses his athleticism to play cleanup around the rim.
Those three Nuggets outscored the entire Nets roster in the first three quarters of what became a blowout 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 interesting part: this is far from an isolated incident.
The Nets were outscored by 16 home losses to the Sacramento Kings, whose All-Star Domantas Sabonis finished with 24 points and 21 rebounds. They were outscored by another middle-of-the-pack team in their loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder and were outscored, 49-28, in their road win against the Nuggets last time out.
The Nets stunned the Nuggets in a 22-point come-from-behind victory that night. They were not so lucky this time.
“I think those are the opportunities where we can control the rebound. We have to. So, for example, last night against Sacramento: Kevin Huerter can’t have offensive rebounds against us. Kessler Edwards can’t have offensive rebounds against us. Davion Mitchell can’t get offensive rebounds against us,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said before Sunday’s tip-off.
“Sabonis, he’s going to have his just because he’s bigger, stronger and that’s the way it is. Jokic, unfortunately, will get some offensive rebounds tonight. It will happen. Can you eliminate some of the ones where maybe that guy isn’t as tall as you? And then it’s not as much compensated as the amount of offensive rebounds Jokic gets.
“But we still want everyone to come back, to bump into each other, to help each other, this is going to be a community of recovery. The parallel, the silos, cannot happen. We all have to interact and intersect and come back and come back. You can’t just be a shooter and not come back. You can’t just be a driver and not come back. You can’t just be big and not have it come back. Everybody has to come and come back.”
And with strong rebounding teams remaining in each of the Nets’ next four games — games that will define their standings and thus their season — the pressure is on for Brooklyn to find a way to win despite its biggest shortcomings.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat and Orlando Magic are bigger and stronger teams than the Nets in and around the paint. In Cleveland, it’s the combination of two seven-footers: Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley. In Miami, All-Star center Bam Adebayo is always a headache, and Orlando is the breeding ground for the NBA’s next and greatest experiment with five players listed 6′10″ or taller each playing significant minutes, including Rookie of the Year Paolo. Banchero and the 7′2″ phenomenon Bol Bol.
Mikal Bridges gave the Nets 23 points on 8-of-18 shooting, but had just one rebound in 31 minutes of action. Dorian Finney-Smith shot just 1-of-5 from the field and compounded the shooting woes with just three rebounds. Day’Ron Sharpe grabbed five rebounds in eight garbage minutes, and the tallest Net on the roster, Moses Brown, did not play in the first available game of his 10-day contract.
Vaughn preached that all players, not just rookie center Nic Claxton, must prioritize crashing the glass. Claxton finished with eight rebounds in 31 minutes.
That low number led the entire Nets in rebounding, an area Brooklyn needs to address as they try to avoid the Play-In Tournament.