Kevin Durant mentioned he needed to “beat the snot out of” the New Orleans Pelicans within the season opener.
It was the Pelicans who did the beating and the Nets who left boogers throughout their house ground.
The Nets walked out of Barclays Heart battered, bruised and with their tails between their legs after taking a thumping on opening evening. They by no means led, solely held the momentum as soon as — when slicing into the deficit coming into halftime — and trailed by as many as 26 of their 130-108 loss to the Pelicans on Wednesday.
“They beat us in each class tonight,” head coach Steve Nash mentioned after the sport. “It’s actually in regards to the competitors degree and elevating it now that the season’s right here, and that was an incredible form of warning shot of what the usual is.”
There’s lots to remove from a sport the Nets (0-1) misplaced in, as Nash mentioned, each class. For starters, they don’t have the dimensions to actually compete with larger groups, as evidenced by the Pelicans’ 22-board benefit within the rebound margin and the whopping 36-4 disparity in second-chance factors.
Nets common supervisor Sean Marks selected to not go after a lumbering huge man this previous offseason to provide the Nets the dimensions they misplaced when Andre Drummond signed with the Chicago Bulls. Whereas the Knicks had signed seven-footer Isaiah Hartenstein — who stuffed in properly in his opener towards Grizzlies’ bruiser Steven Adams whereas Mitchell Robinson was in foul bother — the Nets began Nic Claxton and introduced second-year huge man Day’Ron Sharpe off the bench.
It didn’t work.
Jonas Valanciunas is among the strongest facilities in all of basketball, and ‘ Williamson’s dimension and energy precedes his title. The Pelicans in the end out-rebounded the Nets, 61-39, a margin equal to the 22-point deficit within the ultimate rating.
“[We’ve got to] field out, put a physique on folks, not allow them to get in our paint on protection,” Durant defined after the sport. “You let a group get in your paint, you allow your guys on the perimeter, now they’re crashing for the glass, so we’ve received to maintain the ball out the paint. [If] they’re taking pictures over us, then their group’s received no selection however to get again on protection as an alternative of crashing, so we’ve simply received to maintain groups out of the paint.”
The Nets don’t seem to have a passable reply for what they will do in another way in future matchups towards different huge groups, as a result of boxing out doesn’t all the time work when the opponent is flat-out stronger. These mis-matchups are going to return typically given the panorama of the Jap Convention: the Bucks, Celtics, 76ers and Cavaliers are every larger than the Nets, and every of these groups mission to face in-between their championship hopes.
Apart from the rebounding disparity, there was a transparent drop-off in effort — as within the Pelicans flat-out outworked the Nets all evening lengthy. It was extra of the identical from final season, and the season prior, the place the Nets wouldn’t deliver the combat till an opponent punched them within the mouth.
The Pelicans, extra precisely, headbutt the Nets sq. within the nostril. Their effort mirrored in each class: extra assists, fewer turnovers; higher offensive move, extra defensive depth.
“This can be a grown man’s league and probably the most bodily group wins, and New Orleans got here in with intent to indicate us why they’re going to be within the hunt for championships within the subsequent few years,” Kyrie Irving mentioned postgame. “They’ve a great basis with Brandon Ingram and Zion [Williamson] after which add in a defensive-minded participant like Herbert [Jones] and [then] CJ McCollum they usually all had been clicking tonight. You see simply the unfold out of the scoreboard. They did all the pieces.”
Which brings us to the worst a part of the evening: sadly, it was Ben Simmons.
Simmons fouled out after simply 23 minutes and totaled solely 4 factors, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. He didn’t appear to be the participant the Nets envision because the engine each on offense and protection. As an alternative, that engine sputtered and the Nets broke down.
Simmons, in fact, was taking part in in his first official common season sport in over a yr after sitting out your complete 2021-22 NBA season citing psychological well being points and a decrease again damage that required offseason surgical procedure. He, his teammates and the group are bullish on a season the place, like high quality wine, he’ll regularly enhance because the season progresses..
“It takes time. Having again surgical procedure and being away from the sport for a yr, there’s little issues that your thoughts would possibly inform you to go do one thing, however your physique’s not desirous to go try this,” he mentioned postgame. “However these are the habits, that’s one thing that I simply must proceed to give attention to and be aggressive whatever the outcome.”
As of now, time is on the Nets’ aspect. This was solely Recreation 1 of 82, and the Nets missed two key gamers — sharpshooters Joe Harris (foot soreness) and Seth Curry (ankle surgical procedure rehab) — in addition to a wild card in rehabbing ahead T.J. Warren (foot damage rehab).
The loss — the lopsided nature of their defeat, that’s — is a reminder that this season received’t be a stroll within the park. The Nets have all of the expertise on paper, however it’s going to take a yr’s value of video games to construct the chemistry and cohesion wanted to beat the league’s elite.
It’s attainable, so long as they don’t fracture from inside through the tough stretches.