3. Defense has been stellar, but not good enough
The Brooklyn Nets are in the lower-middle of the NBA defensively on the season, but have been tremendous at the defensive end over their last six games.
They are allowing an effective field goal percentage of 49.3, fourth-best in the NBA over that span. Their 103.6 defensive rating is third in the league in that stretch.
Opponents have shot just 43.9 percent overall and 31.3 percent from 3-point range, both sixth in the league.
By any metric available, the Nets have been defensively elite since Jan. 25.
The problem is that they have been just as offensively inept over that span, which is why they are 2-4 over the last six games and have lost three games in a row for the first time in almost two months.
Against the Milwaukee Bucks on Monday night, the Nets had no business being within nine points of the Bucks at halftime, not after shooting 24.4 percent overall and going 1-for-18 from 3-point range.
But there they were in a 51-42 game, thanks in large part to a defense that had held the Bucks — second in the NBA in scoring, third in field goal percentage and fourth in offensive rating entering play — to 35.4 percent shooting in the first half.
It wasn’t sustainable — the Nets collapsed under the weight of their offensive problems in the second half — but even in the blowout loss held the Bucks more than four points under their scoring average and 5.5 percentage points below their average shooting night.
Brooklyn scraps and fights and coach Kenny Atkinson has done a solid job mixing up his defensive looks.
The Nets gave Milwaukee fits in the first half with their 2-3 matchup zone look, in particular, but have had difficulty this season putting great defensive efforts up at the same time their offense is firing on all cylinders.
Similarly, the defense is now playing great at a time when the offense is playing its worst basketball of the season.
If the Nets can get healthy and put complete games together, they could be scary good heading down the stretch, even against a schedule that will be brutal, particularly in March, when they will play nine road games, including seven in a row.
That stretch begins in Oklahoma City and then to Utah, with a trip to Sacramento sandwiched between two games in Los Angeles. The trip concludes with games at Portland and Philadelphia.
Brooklyn will need to be playing complete — both in terms of personnel and effort — to keep their momentum moving forward.