The Nets returned home Monday after the first 5-0 trip west in team history, part of a six-game winning streak, the highest in the league.
It’s a comeback for the Nets, who had bottomed out with a humiliating loss in Detroit. From that point on, at just 14-12 and mired in a three-game losing streak, they have become the hottest team in basketball and one of the favorites to reach the NBA Finals. How did that happen?
TThey are checking the defense, in particular changing.
Brooklyn has doubled even more since switching to James Harden.
Before Harden’s arrival, the Nets traded teams 20 percent of the time, 3 percent above the league average. But through his first 14 games after the trade, that jumped to 33 percent, which would lead the league this season according to Second Spectrum tracking. Before Sunday’s win at the Clippers, they had traded a staggering 41 percent of the picks on the perfect western swing.
In many ways it makes sense. Only three teams in the follow-up era (from 2013-14) have changed more than 40 percent: the Rockets over the past three years, led by Harden and coached by current Nets assistant Mike D’Antoni.
“They change from 1 to 5 when Jeff Green is at 5, and they change from 1 to 4 and fall when DeAndre [Jordan] is in the game. But the matchup you think they wouldn’t change, they will, ”Clippers coach Ty Lue said. “It makes teams stagnate.”
Steve Nash is growing as a coach
Nash, who never served as an assistant, has been learning on the job.
He kept an optimistic tone, but knew when to join his team after the loss in Detroit. Despite guard Bruce Brown’s shortcomings as a shooter, Nash has found creative ways to use him as a 6-foot-2-inch cutter, blocker and pseudo-center.
And Nash’s settings in Phoenix were impressive. He deployed a zone defense that he hasn’t shown all season to help cool the Suns. He then took Jordan out of his usual drop coverage and made him switch for the first time all season, letting them switch from 1 to 5 and challenging Deandre Ayton to punish them. It allowed them to bounce back from a 21-point halftime deficit, the largest canceled deficit in team history.
The Nets got tough enough
The Nets didn’t have to be the Bad Boy Pistons; they just couldn’t afford to be historically bad, which is exactly how they had performed.
“That is a non-negotiable step in the aspirations of any team to have that determination, tenacity and connectivity,” Nash said.
In the first 13 games after Harden’s trade, the Nets were just 7-6 and last in the NBA in defensive rating. But on the winning streak they have shown more strength at that end, up to 21st. That was enough to see their net rating jump from 18th in the league to fourth.
“Day and night since I got here. We are playing hard now, and we are playing smart, ”Harden said. “The thing that makes me proud is the way we think in every game, in every possession. We do not take our opponent lightly, no matter who we are playing against. It is the same goal. It’s the same way of thinking. “
Kevin Durant (left hamstring strain) is out Tuesday. Green (right shoulder contusion) and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (right hip contusion) are questionable, while Tyler Johnson (left adductor strain) and Iman Shumpert (left hamstring strain) are likely.
Harden was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the second time since joining the Nets.