Brooklyn Nets: Defensive focus on D’Angelo Russell stalls offense

The Brooklyn Nets slide into a 3-game losing streak has been fueled by problems on the backboards, as well as defenses gearing up for D’Angelo Russell.

The Miami Heat’s approach to Saturday’s matchup with the Brooklyn Nets and All-Star D’Angelo Russell was one of denial.

The Heat were aggressively blitzing Russell on Brooklyn’s pick-and-roll sets with the point guard as the ball-handler, prompting him to get the ball out. Once Russell no longer had the had the ball, Miami’s defenders were determined not to let him get it back.

The strategy worked well. Russell attempted only eight shots and scored just 10 points in the Nets’ 117-88 loss on South Beach Saturday night.

Coach Kenny Atkinson said the onus will be on the coaching staff and Russell’s teammates to make opponents pay for the strategy, via Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

“They’re getting the ball out of his hands, trapping his pick-and-rolls. He’s got to get rid of it and he’s done a good job getting rid of it. We’ve got to help him there, collectively us as a staff and his teammates.”

On this play, you can see Miami’s Justise Winslow interfere with Jarrett Allen as he attempts to set a screen, and Heat center Bam Adebayo is up out of the paint prepared to double if the screen does get set.

Russell did manage to shake loose here for a mid-range jumper that missed.

On the play below, Russell sees the approaching double and gets the ball quickly to Treveon Graham, who misfires on an open 3-pointer.

What the Heat did when the Nets went with Spencer Dinwiddie at the point was to trap him. Dinwiddie, as he is wont to do, responded often by flying head-first into the defense, often with less than desirable results.

Rodney McGruder is guarding Dinwiddie closely here and when Dinwiddie makes his move off a Rodions Kurucs screen, Dwyane Wade is already stepping up to take on Dinwiddie and easily pokes the ball away for a fast-break opportunity the other way.

While Russell managed to record eight assists in 23 minutes with just one turnover against Miami’s defensive strategy of attempting to force Russell to release the ball, Dinwiddie struggled against the traps and blitzes.

He scored 10 points in 25 minutes, but was just 2-for-12 from the floor, missing all four of his 3-point attempts, and had three turnovers to offset his four assists.

The other Brooklyn player who struggled with turnovers was small forward Joe Harris, who was — with Russell being denied the basketball — often being forced into a facilitating role. It’s something he’s much improved at this season, but not without the occasional hiccup.

Also, the Heat did a good job of meeting the offball screenining and cutting designed to get Harris open looks above the break.

Here Harris receives a pass coming off a screen and immediately has a double-team to contend with. It didn’t end well.

The disrupted offense fell out of sync and hardly anyone shot the ball well. Harris was 6-for-11, but only 2-for-5 from deep. Graham was 3-for-10 and 2-for-6. Caris LeVert went 3-for-9 and missed his only two 3-point attempts.

Allen Crabbe off the bench was 1-for-9, all from long range. Kurucs was 3-for-9 and went 1-for-5 from behind the arc. DeMarre Carroll, sizzling of late, was held to 3-of-8 shooting and hit 1-for-6 from the land of 3.

When Brooklyn’s offense is flowing and moving with the ball hopping around quickly, it is textbook poetry in motion.

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But when it gets disrupted and the timing gets out of tune, it can become a jumbled cacophony of forced passes, bad ball-handling decisions and a great deal of difficulty securing an open look.