Nets get pummeled on glass again, lose 3rd in a row to Denver, 108-102
If the Nets hope to avoid the Play-In Tournament and retain their standing as an uncontested playoff team, they’re going to have to solve their rebounding issue.
It’s the Achilles heel for a team still clinging to postseason aspirations in the aftermath of the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving trades.
The Nets can get stops and, at times, generate quality offense — but their lack of true depth at the five and true size in the front court leaves them susceptible to being outworked on the glass.
They rank second to last in rebounding in all of basketball ahead of only the center-less Dallas Mavericks.
“We have to accept it. It’s truth,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said postgame. “It’s staring us in the face. The scouting report says to try to go offensive rebound versus the Nets, and we have to understand that and really do a diligent job of trying to continue to do this together. We can’t do it with two people or three people.”
Such was the case in the Nets’ 108-102 loss to a Denver Nuggets team that ranks middle-of-the-pack in glass cleaning 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, rebounding is in their DNA. Nikola Jokic is a seven-foot rebounding machine, Aaron Gordon is built like a bodybuilder and Michael Porter Jr. uses his athleticism to play clean-up around the rim.
Those three Nuggets outrebounded the entire Nets roster through 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 concerning part: This is far from an isolated incident.
The Nets were outrebounded by 16 their home loss to the Sacramento Kings, whose All-Star Domantas Sabonis finished with 24 points and 21 rebounds. They were outrebounded by another middle-of-the-pack team in their loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, and were outrebounded, 49-28, in their road victory over the Nuggets the last time around.
The Nets stunned the Nuggets in a 22-point come-from-behind win that night. They were not as fortunate this time around.
“I think it’s the opportunities where we can control the rebounding. We have to. So for instance, the other night against Sacramento: Kevin Huerter cannot have offensive rebounds against us. Kessler Edwards cannot have offensive rebounds against us. Davion Mitchell cannot have offensive rebounds against us,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said ahead of tip-off on Sunday.
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“Sabonis, he’s gonna have his just because he’s bigger, stronger and that’s the way it is. Jokic, unfortunately, he’s gonna get some offensive rebounds tonight. It’s gonna happen. Can you eliminate some of those where maybe that dude isn’t as big as you? And then it isn’t as offset as Jokic gets his amount of offensive rebounds.
“But we still want everybody to come back, hit, help each other, this is going to be a community of rebounding. The parallel, the silos, can’t happen. We’ve all gotta interact and intersect and come back and rebound. You can’t just be a shooter and don’t rebound. You can’t just be a driver and don’t rebound. You can’t just be a big and don’t rebound. Everybody’s gotta come and rebound.”
And with strong rebounding teams remaining in each of the Nets’ next four games — games that will define their seeding and, thus, their season — the pressure is on for Brooklyn to find a way to win despite their biggest shortcoming.
The Cleveland Cavaliers, Miami Heat and Orlando Magic all profile as bigger and stronger teams than the Nets in and around the paint. In Cleveland, it’s the combination of the 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 best experiment with five players listed 6′10″ or taller who each play significant minutes, including Rookie of the Year frontrunner Paolo Banchero and the 7′2″ phenom Bol Bol.
Mikal Bridges gave the Nets 23 points on 8-of-18 shooting but recorded just one rebound in 31 minutes of play. Dorian Finney-Smith shot just one-of-five from the field and compounded those shooting woes with just three rebounds. Day’Ron Sharpe grabbed five rebounds in eight garbage time minutes and the tallest Net on the roster, Moses Brown, did not play in the first available game of his 10-day contract.
Vaughn has been preaching that all players, not just starting center Nic Claxton, need to prioritize crashing the glass. Claxton finished with eight rebounds in 31 minutes.
That low number led the entire Nets in rebounding, an area Brooklyn must address as they attempt to avoid the Play-In Tournament.