Speaking with reporters in Brooklyn on Friday night, Bob Costas mentioned, several times, the optimism that surrounded the revival of the franchise just six weeks ago. When a team that entered as an afterthought in the early going did not lose just two games on the season’s first eight-game homestand and rose to a 12-5 record after that, the sense of urgency around the franchise was high.
But the Nets ended up losing a home game against the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night, and, now 8-9 since then, remain stuck in a doldrums that has them among the bottom half of the Eastern Conference.
“It’s a tough situation,” said Jarrett Allen, the Nets’ rookie center. “The best thing we can do right now is go on a run.”
Speaking before practice on Friday, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson offered some insights about the team’s recent swoon, and his sense of what lies ahead.
“I don’t really think it has anything to do with where we’re in the standings,” Atkinson said. “I think it has more to do with, when a team has been as good as this, to get out of their zone.”
An Atkinson return to the College of Charleston is back on the docket this week after he worked out there on Monday and Tuesday and is looking forward to it. “The place is just electric,” he said. “You walk outside and it’s yellow lights, it’s traffic and it’s rowdy.”
Health, which has been a point of focus for Atkinson in recent weeks, is trending in the right direction. Headliner and scorer D’Angelo Russell hasn’t missed a game yet this season because of knee problems, and he practiced on Friday, participating in shoot-around before the team’s session. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hasn’t missed a game with a foot injury either, and he is expected to be available on Friday night.
Atkinson said both were “somebody we have to see how they play and what shape they’re in” after they came off the bench against the Clippers.
“I have to look at our rotation,” he said, “but [the players who have been hot lately] are playing pretty good basketball.”
Russell, who has been largely an observer during the team’s run of success, is due to come off the bench against the Bulls on Friday night.
“Right now, what we’re trying to do is get our team to understand that the championships last a long time,” Atkinson said. “You don’t have to go out there and hope for a win. You can have the right mindset and hope that the team you’re playing against believes in what you’re doing.
“I think right now we’re trying to get our players in that right mindset that you have to have to win a championship, a lot of those things go into winning a championship.”
One person whose opinion has not cooled is Robert Atkinson, the coach’s father, who has been a coach, president and even general manager. He has attended most games in which he’s been eligible to attend and is watching from the stands at Barclays Center.
Robert Atkinson sat just a few rows behind Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov in the arena on Thursday night, and he was on hand for Friday’s practice. He told reporters that he was encouraged by the energy emanating from the team on the practice floor.
“I have faith in the team,” he said. “I was at the games watching my son play. I was sad that he didn’t win. I just watch the team run and he put the whole team together on the road.”