Nuggets follow suit as Nets’ tough stretch continues: ‘We all know the math and see the seeding’

When the Nets last played the Denver Nuggets on March 12, the game plan was clear:

Force MVP leader Nikola Jokic to take on more offensive responsibility and get his help.

Jokic finished with 35 points, 20 rebounds and 11 assists, but the Nuggets blew a 22-point lead. The Nets allowed just three other Denver players to score in double figures, outscored the Nuggets by 19 in the third quarter and secured a 122-120 win — an unlikely result on the road against a teams that were expected to become champions of the Western Conference this season.

But will it work again now that the cat is out of the bag?

Opponents cannot afford to take their foot off the gas against this the resilient Nets team.

Just as the Nets can’t afford to believe that the same game plan that allowed the Nuggets to build a 22-point lead in the first, will win against a motivated Denver team this time, albeit in the second game of -a way back… behind them six-point loss to the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.

“We always talk about having a formula or a strategy to the game,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said Saturday after practice at the HSS practice facility in Industry City. “I told the guys yesterday, Some guys step up to the plate and you don’t throw them, so we have to have a strategy for who we’re going to pitch to, and that game, I said we’re going to let Jokic do what was also doing to see if we can have a compromise with the other guy, so we’ll see if that formula is the same for us.

“[Denver is a] smart team. They will make some adjustments. What I liked is that we played with a lot of energy, we battled around, we were very scrappy, all of the above, we played small. So we’ll probably see those things again.”

Jokic, however, is cut from the same Nets kryptonite cloth as Domantas Sabonis, the All-Star forward who had 24 points and 21 rebounds in Brooklyn’s home loss to the Sacramento Kings on Thursday. The Nets have traditionally struggled against dominant big men who use strength and brute force to drive to the rim for rebounds and baskets.

It’s an area the team has tried to address twice with backup center Day’Ron Sharpe out of the rotation. The Nets did not trade Nerlens Noel after his 10-day contract expired and moved on to 7-foot-2 center Moses Brown, who just signed a 10-day contract with the Knicks and worked out with the Nets on Saturday.

Brown, for reference, towers over Sharpe, who is listed at 6-foot-11. Vaughn didn’t commit to using Brown as quickly as he used Noel, who played immediately after signing his 10-day contract.

“I’ll see how the games play out. We want to see him get some quality minutes at a time. I did this early enough with Nerlens to get us some answers quickly. But he’s going to find a way to get some minutes for sure,” Vaughn said of Brown. “It’s just big. He’s just a big body on the rim for us, but an agile guy. Like he could run on the floor. Young, 23 years old, has the ability to get up and down. But at the end of the day, he’s a big guy.”

It’s unfair, of course, to expect Brown — who went undrafted in 2019 and played minutes for five different NBA teams — to do much. checking the Jokic impactwho won the MVP each of the last two years.

It’s also unfair to expect the Nets to have as much success against the Nuggets as they did in their last outing.

Denver is home to the best record in the Western Conference. They have the second-best offensive rating in all of basketball behind the same Kings team that won Thursday at Barclays Center, second in assist percentage, first in assist-to-turnover ratio and fourth in rebounding percentage. They shoot the second-best three-point percentage in all of basketball and, of course, are led by the presumptive MVP in Jokic, who is on pace to join Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to ever win three MVPs in a row.

And they led by 22 before admitting they took their foot off the gas and let the Nets come back to win in Denver.

More importantly, Sunday’s morning game is the second game in a six-game stretch that could define Brooklyn’s season.

The Knicks’ win over the Nuggets on Saturday moved them two games ahead of the Nets for the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference. The seventh-seeded Miami Heat entered the weekend 1.5 games behind the Nets before facing another playoff contender, the Chicago Bulls, on Saturday.

The Nets are caught between the two, clinging to the comfort that comes with the sixth seed by a thread. If they fall to seventh, they will have to compete in the Play-In Tournament, which is a sudden-death matchup between the playoff hopefuls, with the winners advancing to the seventh and eighth seeds in the playoffs and the losers go home.

The Nets dropped the first game of their stretch at Regii no. 2 Thursday. It’s Jokic’s Nuggets on Sunday, two back-to-back games against Donovan Mitchell, the Cleveland Cavaliers after that, then a back-to-back road trip first to Miami against the Heat, then to Orlando against the long, athletic Magic the next night.

“We all know the math and see the seeding,” Spencer Dinwiddie said after Saturday’s practice. “Everybody knows that.”

Vaughn, however, joked that the first thing he said when he woke up Saturday morning was that he wasn’t going to look any further than Sunday’s game against the Nuggets. He doesn’t want his team to look too far ahead because there are too many variables that could be in play between now and the season finale against the Philadelphia 76ers on April 9.

“I really want them to focus on our next game, which is Denver, and let that be all that consumes them. Because it’s already enough,” he said. “That team is good enough that we have enough problems to deal with, so we don’t want to exacerbate it by putting more pressure, something more out of the game.”

This, of course, is the time of the season when every game comes with added pressure. In Brooklyn, each loss will send the Nets closer and closer to sudden death Play-In Tournament territory.

That’s the last place a team without superstars like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving wants to be, especially for a team like the Nets who are still figuring out their late-game offense.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *