Brooklyn Nets can’t afford to lose the effort game

Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2018 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images) /

The Brooklyn Nets got manhandled Monday night by the New York Knicks, showing again that their margin of error is too small to win when they’re outworked.

The Brooklyn Nets were at a loss to explain their poor showing Monday night after they were blown out by the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden 115-96.

It seemed apparent enough from the outside looking in. The Nets proved an old axiom true once again: The team that doesn’t do the work is going to get worked.

This is a more talented team this season than it was last year. Caris LeVert has taken huge strides as a player. Jarrett Allen is improved. The additions of players such as Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier and Jared Dudley have taken the team’s depth to a new level.

As the Nets battled through close finishes against the New Orleans Pelicans Friday night and again Sunday evening against the Golden State Warriors, they worked. Feet were moving on defense. Players were cutting and moving the ball with a purpose on the offensive end.

The glass was being crashed by a gang of black-and-white jerseys, particularly the defensive window, as there was an emphasis on limiting second-chance opportunities — something absolutely essential to teams that go as small as Brooklyn does.

For the first couple of minutes against the Knicks, that was all there. The ball was dancing on offense. The drive-and-kick game was producing open looks aplenty and they were knocking down those shots.

But when New York started to chip into Brooklyn’s early nine-point lead, there was almost an audible “click.” The Knicks pushed back and the Nets were content to let them.

Without saying the words, Davis called out his team’s effort afterward, via the New York Post:

"“That’s the next step for a young team, to be consistent every night and playing a team like this the way we play the Warriors. Obviously they’re not one of the top teams in the league, but they come out every night and they play hard.“They played hard and they got the win and they beat us every way. We took this one on the chin.”"

The offense stalled out. Players weren’t so much moving without the ball as they were just sort of meandering. The screens being set were either slow to arrive or not executed well and the driving lanes closed up quickly.

It was almost as if — after close, tough battles against a playoff-caliber team and the two-time champions — there was an expectation the Knicks would fold once the Nets hit them in the mouth early.

When New York didn’t cooperate and fought back, the Nets seemed positively mystified by this.

Being a better team is one thing. But the Nets are certainly not at that elite status where they can win by simply showing up. There are few teams that have ever been able to do that, at least not consistently.

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Winning takes work. Work takes effort. And the Nets on Monday proved yet again that when they are on the wrong side in the effort column, everything else pretty much disintegrates quickly.