The Nets had one of their longer practices since the new regime took over. Kiki Vandeweghe said it was his first real practice with the Nets.
You certainly could look at it that way, since he had just about everyone take part except for Chris Douglas-Roberts, whose sprained right ankle kept him hobbled, and Eduardo Najera. Yi Jianlian was out there and Jarvis Hayes, too.
Slowly but surely, it seems the Nets are getting their regular players back. You can’t be entirely sure because it seems every time someone is about to return, someone else gets hurt.
But barring more setbacks or injuries, you’re looking at the possibility -– possibility -– that the Nets will have 15 players available for Saturday’s game against the Rockets or maybe Dec. 28 against Oklahoma City.
By then the Nets may also be playing defense.
They went over many things like more movement on offense and getting out and running, but defense was a main focus today. They put in the new defense or, more aptly put, they put a defense in.
Better late than never, we say.
There is no denying the Nets’ defense has been awful the last couple of weeks. During this seven-game losing streak, they’re giving up 110 points on 52.9 percent shooting. No knock on Vandeweghe, but it seems the Nets forgot all they learned about defense under Lawrence Frank when he left.
We understand they’re running a new offense and guys are in different positions now, but that’s just a nice way of saying guys aren’t getting back or guys are worrying too much about their scoring and not focusing enough on the other end.
That’s really what’s been going on here. The Nets are 2-26. Their season, for all intents and purposes, is over. So there seem to be guys who want to get theirs. Guys don’t seem to be playing for each other and for the team.
But the turning point may have been the Toronto demolition Friday and the breakthrough may have been the Lakers’ loss Saturday.
The Nets were humiliated in Toronto, down by 37 at halftime. About 24 hours later, they were leading the champion Lakers at the half.
It wasn’t a moral victory. The Nets didn’t finish the job. But they believed they could beat the Lakers and people within the team said it was the most competitive half of basketball they played all season on both ends of the floor.
Pride definitely kicked in, but now it has to follow them for the rest of the season.
It's easy to get up for the Lakers after laying down in Toronto. Next up is the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Nets can’t have the attitude that, since they just fought the Lakers, they should beat the Wolves. They have to take what they took with them from the loss to the Lakers and these two practices into that game, especially on the defensive end.
It’s somewhat ironic that Vandeweghe is teaching defense. He admits –- in a self-deprecating fashion -– that he wasn’t much of a defender when he played. Last week, we asked him about stopping LeBron James, and here was Vandeweghe’s answer
“I don't know, I'm not guarding him,” Vandeweghe said. “That's not saying anything. I never guarded anybody anyway.”
But Vandeweghe is a prideful guy. He doesn’t want to be a coach, but he doesn’t want the team he’s coaching to be this bad defensively either. He has said over and over how much he realizes he hates losing by being back on the bench and in the locker room and at the practices.
As much as this is a developmental year, it’s also about developing good habits, winning habits, and many of them start on the defensive end.Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)