Brooklyn Nets’ Morale Must Be Monitored As Losses Mount

Nov 29, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) watches from the bench during the third quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 29, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Brooklyn Nets center Brook Lopez (11) watches from the bench during the third quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports /

The Brooklyn Nets are mired in the league’s basement as the new year begins and the team is showing its first signs of discontent. Without superior talent, the Nets will have to fight harder to keep their energy up.

It’s a common refrain, but it still rings true: the NBA season isn’t a sprint–it’s a marathon. Unfortunately, as the Brooklyn Nets are now learning, when that marathon involves lots of L’s, the seeds of discontent tend to grow faster than usual.

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That dissatisfaction appears to finally be sprouting in Brooklyn. The Nets held a players-only meeting following a disastrous showing in a 118-95 loss to Washington last Friday.

Including a 121-109 loss at the hands of the Indiana Pacers Thursday night, and Friday’s 116-108 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Nets have dropped five straight and nine of their last ten. It’s time to worry that their frustration might be boiling over into something sour.

“It was emotional and a frustrating game, and guys were just venting,” Brook Lopez told the New York Post when asked about the team meeting. “I don’t know what was necessarily correct or who said what, but the important thing is it happened.”

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Sure, it’s not uncommon for teams to have these meetings. They can even happen following wins. They can be important for teams trying to sharpen their focus. LeBron James famously tried a few unconventional methods to motivate his teammates in his first season after his return to Cleveland.

But the meeting that the Nets had recently is troubling. It is a sign that they could fail their most important test.

Perhaps more than anything else the rest of this season, the Nets are going to have their resiliency tested. It’s already difficult, in the grind of an 82-game season, to show up with energy and intensity every night. That difficulty only compounds when teams start piling up the losses.

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Further, the way that the Nets have been losing games can be demoralizing. Take Thursday night’s loss to the Pacers. The Nets were slow out of the gate, falling behind early and dropping the opening quarter 34-27. Some hot shooting in the second made the game close again, but the Nets played a terrible third quarter, one of their signature moves so far this season, and let the game slip away.

Starting a game sluggish, slowly working your way back, and then having all that work outdone–a pattern the Nets have fallen into too often this year- can cause frustrations to boil over.

Head coach Kenny Atkinson told the Post he didn’t mind the discussion the team had.

“If it was just silent, I’d be more concerned,’’ Atkinson said.

Atkinson’s assessment is fair, but monitoring the pulse of the team will now be even more important going forward. The Nets have played hard in almost every game this season, something they’ve gotten acclaim for around the league. Now, as the losses pile up, they’ll have to work even harder to focus their energy on the court instead of yelling at each other in the locker room.

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Keep an eye on the team’s communication on the floor. Are they talking through each defensive rotation? Do players pick each other up after turnovers? Are they sprinting to help each other up off the floor? Is the bench loud with cheering starters when the reserves are in the game?

The best weapon the Nets have right now is their willingness to play harder than their opponent. If their resiliency fails them, this season will get unbearable in a hurry.

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“It can be a strain for sure. If you look at our group, we have a resilient group, and we have a strong-minded group as well,’’ Lopez told the Post. “We’ll definitely bounce back from this.”

Here’s hoping they do.

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