Heading into the set-to against the Heat yesterday, head coach Steve Nash conceded that the Nets weren’t built to be a defensive powerhouse. He was underscoring the obvious, to be sure; their mediocre position gave way to an even worse standing once they had to give up significant personnel to acquire former Most Valuable Player James Harden from the Rockets. As excited as he was to consider the potential of his new acquisition alongside offensive stalwarts Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, he admitted that his charges needed to do better on the other end of the court.
Not that Nash wasn’t optimistic. He understood that the Nets required time to jell as a unit, and he expressed confidence that significant progress would come sooner rather than later. Given their performance yesterday, however, he would do well to exhibit not inconsiderable patience. For the fourth straight time, they allowed the competition to practically score at will. And it wasn’t as if the Heat, who could do no better than put up 81 against the underwhelming Raptors on the first outing of a back-to-back set, relied on noted scorers to post a whopping 124 on the second. With vital cogs Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro unable to suit up, otherwise offensively challenged Bam Adebayo managed a career-high 41 markers on 20 shots.
Granted, the Nets did go on to claim the victory, their first in three matches with their heralded Big Three on tap. On the other hand, they had to lean on an otherworldly showing from Irving and the steady hands of Durant and Harden in the crunch. Heck, they even got a scare in the dying seconds; their eight-point advantage with just under a minute to go got whittled down to two while there was still ample time on the clock. Only a miscalculation by Heat bench tactician Erik Spoelstra — who chose not to call a timeout with five ticks left — allowed them to avert overtime, or, worse, a collapse in regulation.
Again, Nash is right. The Nets will improve, and there will be many an encounter they will win simply on the basis of their superior offense. Then again, they’re not after a respectable showing in the regular season. Considering all the assets they forked over in order to claim Harden, they cannot — and should not — but be focused on meeting the ultimate objective. Anything less is a bust — in which case they have to do the less glamorous part of hooping as well. Else, they’ll find themselves disproving the hypothesis of their grand experiment, much to their dismay.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and Human Resources management, corporate communications, and business development.