Consistency is an attribute Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson often points to as being the tipping point for a player working toward taking his game to the next level. As the Nets close out a home stretch against the Philadelphia 76ers at Barclays Center on Sunday night, it’s something they’re looking for as a group.
While playing five games in eight days through Friday night’s loss to the Houston Rockets, the Nets three times built first-half leads of 13 points or more, only to end up trailing in the second half. A fast early start against the Knicks quickly faded, and against the Warriors they flipped the script, trailing by as many as 19 points before coming back to within two.
In Wednesday’s game against the Detroit Pistons, the Nets eventually came back to win after being down as many as 10 points themselves in the second half.
“Every game is its own monster,” said Atkinson before the game on Friday night. “Every game, the ebbs and flows of a game, first quarter, third quarter. It’s amazing how different the games are, how different the flow can be.”
With all the ebbs and flows, most Nets games return to the same point. Six of their 10 games fall into the NBA category of clutch games — games within a five-point margin at some point in the last five minutes. That makes the Nets second in the NBA in the category, the same ranking they finished with last year when playing 50 such games.
BUCKETS … JOEY BUCKETS
Joe Harris was bombarded with new nickname possibilities when he showed up to training camp with his beard and longer hair, but this favorite of the Brooklyn Brigade is the one that’s sticking, partly because it’s right on point.
As the Nets head into their 10th game of the season tonight, Harris is fourth in the NBA in 3-point shooting, connecting for 58.7 percent. Friday night against the Rockets he made all four of his threes, two nights after going 4-for-7 against Detroit. Since shooting 1-of-7 in the season opener, Harris is 26-for-39 (66.7 percent). He’s averaging 13.9 points per game and shooting 54.8 percent overall. All this is after closing the 2017-18 season as the NBA’s No. 2 3-point shooter from Jan. 1 to the end of the season.
“Joe’s kind of figured it out,” said Atkinson last week. “He’s playing at a pace and he knows when to catch and shoot, he knows when to show the ball and attack that closeout in the right time. I remember in the beginning the first year he was throwing the ball all over the place. He was too fast. He was turning it over like crazy. Could still shoot. But that’s the development that we love to see. He’s gotten to the point where he’s a real pro now, can read defenses. I think his defense has improved too. Overall he just keeps getting better.”
NEW HEIGHTS FOR LEVERT
Caris LeVert opened the 2018-19 season by matching his career high with 27 points against Detroit, and he’s since elevated that benchmark twice, the latest with Friday night’s 29-point outing against the Rockets.
LeVert made his first five shots of the game and went on to shoot 10-for-17, including 4-for-6 from 3-point range. After nine games, he’s leading Brooklyn with 20.0 points per game while shooting 48.9 percent, a big jump from last season’s 43.5 mark. He’s also averaging 4.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game.
“I think we all had a sense that he was going to be really good because his preseason was really good, his practice time this offseason was really good,” said Atkinson before Friday night’s game. “I do think he’s reached another level of understanding of the league, understanding of himself. He understands the pace of the game better, especially from an offensive standpoint. And he’s worked really hard on his shot. He’s worked hard on his offensive game so it’s not a surprise his early start. Really in preseason he was the best player from day one if you look at our camp and then our preseason games, so it’s not a surprise his good start.
“I think the challenge for him now is to do it for a long period of time, to do it consistently. But we’ve been thrilled. And listen, as far as his shooting we have confidence. Listen if you take ten open threes a game, we’re all in, and he has the green light to shoot it. I think part of the curse of a really good athlete and a driver is that’s what they want to do all the time. So somehow he’s got to find that balance between those two, and he’s starting to find it.”
ABOUT THE SIXERS
The Philadelphia 76ers had won three of their last four going into Saturday night’s game against Detroit. They’re third in the league in rebounding with 50.1 rebounds per game, led by center Joel Embiid with 11.9 per game. Handling the boards has been a concern for the Nets, who rank 28th in defensive rebounding percentage, but the Sixers rank just 23rd in offensive rebounding percentage, so they’re not necessarily attacking the offensive glass for those rebounds. Philly is also second in the NBA in assists with 26.8 per game, led by Ben Simmons with 8.4 per game. Embiid is second in the league with 29.6 points per game and fifth in blocks with 2.3 per game.