Despite all the injuries and uncertainty surrounding the Nets, they head into Monday just 2 ½ games out of the Eastern Conference play-in and, in their first game after adjusting their roster at the trade deadline, they blew out the Spurs.
It’s why, even though their overall record is ugly, they still have high expectations.
“I think everyone’s point of focus is making it to the playoffs,’’ Lonnie Walker IV said following Monday’s practice in Brooklyn, as the team works to get comfortable with the addition of Dennis Schroder to the rotation coinciding with the departure of Spencer Dinwiddie.
“From the top down, we all want to be in that environment.’’
Before they get to the All-Star break, the Nets have to deal with back-to-back games against the Celtics, the top team in the Eastern Conference and perhaps the league.
“They’re a championship-contending team,” Walker said. “We’ll be able to show what our new teammates are capable of doing.”
“It’s a heck of a challenge for us,’’ head coach Jacque Vaughn said. “They’ll make you focus, or you’ll pay for it on both ends of the floor. They’re just so good at manipulating matchups and using their skill set to get shots they want. And they’ve figured out how to cover on the defensive end of the floor [with] guards that are big and strong and use that ability to get you where they want you. This is a game of want and purpose.”
The home-and-home against Boston tips off a 30-game sprint to the end of the regular season that will determine whether the Nets reach the watered-down postseason.
Vaughn expects his team to have a sense of urgency the rest of the way.
“Historically, games, pre- and post-break, you’ve been able to make up some ground, whether a team is not focused, not ready to play [because they are] thinking about the break too early or still in the break after you’re done with the break,’’ Vaughn said. “So it’s definitely something I’ve stressed to the group: How are we going to approach these 30 games with a relentless effort and ability to focus?”
They’ll be coming off a rout of the Spurs in Schroder’s Nets debut, after the team lost three straight around the trade deadline.
With the deadline now behind them and fitting in some practice time before facing Boston, the Nets should get an early read on how the rest of the season might play out — especially with the impending return of Day’Ron Sharpe on Tuesday and Cam Johnson not long after.
“For us to get healthy is the most vital thing for us going forward and it gives us a chance to figure out our combinations,” Vaughn said. “Who’s going to play rotations, to use our depth and to figure out on both ends of the floor, what’s beneficial? So it is a good sign that we’re getting healthy going into the break.”
That final game before the break in Boston will be the first of five straight away from Barclays Center for a Nets team that is 8-15 on the road.
But they are confident players like Schröder, who has made the playoffs eight times and played 68 postseason games in his career, will help them get back there.
“Players that have played in the playoff games and competed there, that’s where their mindset is,’’ Walker said. “Some players are born winners. When you have players that have that mindset, the energy is very contagious.”