No team in the NBA has lost more games in which it held a double-digit lead than the Nets have this season.
While they are trying to glean the positives out of competing regularly with some of the league’s best teams, Wednesday’s fourth-quarter collapse against Oklahoma City marked the eighth such instance the Nets have flushed away a potential victory. That has left them frustrated and bewildered over how much better their record could be than the 8-18 mark — including eight consecutive losses — they lug into Friday’s game against Toronto at Barclays Center.
“We feel we’re in the games the whole time and that final few minutes or what-not, we find a way to lose,” point guard D’Angelo Russell said after practice Thursday. “So it’s just building on knowing that we’re in the games and the way we’re losing is rebounding or not utilizing the clock when it’s on our side. We can control those things, and that’s something positive that we can really build on.”
Kenny Atkinson also took the “glass half-full” approach with his mostly inexperienced core group, even if veteran forward Jared Dudley sounded the alarm in a rant following Wednesday’s giveaway loss to Paul George and the Thunder, likening the recurring issue to the movie “Groundhog Day” and questioning the team’s collective IQ in repeating the same mistakes.
“Like I said, we’re not having a party over it,” Atkinson said. “But I do think a majority of [Wednesday’s] game we were playing really well.”
In addition to the OKC defeat, the Nets also blew a 20-point lead to Jimmy Butler and the Sixers last month, as well as late double-digit flushes against Utah and Memphis.
Asked if he sees a common thread, Atkinson said it’s “different every game.” The Nets allowed 39 points — including 25 by George — in the fourth quarter against the Thunder. The 22-year-old Russell also fired a shot with nearly nine seconds remaining on the shot clock in the closing seconds, leading to George’s game-winning bucket.
“I’ve got to be better. Gotta be better,” Russell said.
“We talked about it. Learning experience, something he has to learn from,” Atkinson said. “All our team’s got to learn from it.”
Atkinson did agree there’s “merit” to another Dudley assessment about the Nets relying too much on an isolation-based offensive game in the fourth quarter, straying from their ball-sharing approach.
“Look, we have young players. We have a 22-year-old point guard, we have a 20-year-old center [Jarrett Allen] and you’re playing experienced teams,” Atkinson said. “I just think it takes time to gain that experience. I don’t think it’s a question of IQ. I think it’s more of a question of just having more experience.”
Atkinson said Joe Harris’ return to the starting lineup after missing three games with an adductor strain helped “balance out the first and second units.” The Nets constructed a 23-point lead in the third quarter, but does playing well for a majority of the game only make losses in this manner more frustrating?
“Yeah, because they were all winnable games, I would say,” Russell said. “Just made an immature mistake at the end that cost the game and whatnot. I feel like we’re in those games and we’re losing so it seems way bigger than what it is.
“We’re a good team, teams around the league know that you’re a good team or a great team. We’re in a division where we’re trying to lock that in and get big wins. Or any wins. That goes unnoticed and we’re trying to — I don’t know — I would say we beat ourselves at the end and it goes unnoticed how well we played the whole game. … When we beat ourselves at the end, you can kind of forget that. So it’s definitely a positive we can lean on.”