ATLANTA — On the morning of Nov. 4 in Washington, Jacque Vaughn stood in front of his Nets and spoke, ad hoc but from the heart.
“When we came back as a group, we promised each other it would be basketball and hopefully not let anything interfere – any outside noise interferes with that,” Vaughn said. “And our guys have done an amazing job of protecting themselves and doing this basketball thing. Our shooting in Washington was the precipice of that.
They were on a precipice the size of the Grand Canyon, Mount Doom.
Steve Nash had been let go and Vaughn had lost his first game as a coach. Kyrie Irving had just been suspended, Ben Simmons was injured and many feared that Kevin Durant – who requested a trade during the offseason – could repeat with the terrible 2-6 start to the regular season.
“Yeah, there was a lot going on off the pitch,” Nic Claxton told The Post. “[Vaughn] just told us that every day it was going to be [here], he will bring the best version of himself. And obviously actions speak louder than words, and he did, especially during this time. There were a lot of unknowns and a lot of things were happening. But we weathered the storm, and here we are.
Here we have transformed the terrible into the formidable. The Nets, who had been 13th in the East, moved 21-6 on jump to second in the conference.
Irving and Simmons are playing well. Durant smiled. And the Nets are winning, at a better pace than any team in the league since this morning.
“Just knowing what we want to do every time we step on the floor keeps our minds at ease and we believe in everything Jacque tells us,” Durant said.
How? It’s not just one thing. It’s a lot of little things – that started piling up that morning in Washington.
“It’s been a combination of things: the combination of us having healthy guys, having Kyrie back 100% full-time, and just being comfortable with [Vaughn],” Claxton told The Post. “It’s a combination of all of those things, and guys are buying and going out having fun. It worked.
Health and availability are evident, from Irving’s return from an eight-game suspension to Simmons’ return to form. The latter’s net rating in the NBA’s best 10-game winning streak in Brooklyn is 17.3, third-best in the league among players who had logged at least 140 minutes on Thursday.
Additionally, the Nets emphasize basketball and confidence; a trust from Vaughn and each other. This included a players-only meeting that preceded Vaughn’s firing speech.
“What you said about making basketball the main thing,” Markieff Morris told The Post. “We talked about it as a team too, without the coaches. This is our basketball haven. This is where we distance ourselves from the outside world, we silence the noise; because everyone has something to do outside of basketball, no matter what.
“You may not know what it could be for the next person, but everyone has something to do. So once we get into the building – whether it’s practice or a game – let’s put that aside for three or four hours and just focus on the group and the games of basketball winners.
Building that trust has been vital.
“As a group, sticking together and believing and trusting the process. We pretty much had a new group, a lot of new faces. So for us, it’s really uniting, sticking to it. You are going to face adversity, we faced it very early on. Anyway, whatever we faced, we left it at that,” Edmond Sumner told the Post.
“It’s a collective effort for all of us to really buy into what’s going on here, and that’s the big picture,” Irving said. “As much as we’ve lived here in Brooklyn, the teammate changes, the things that we’ve dealt with as an organization, when we have that collective trust of everybody buying overall…it makes a big difference .”
Brooklyn’s 10-game winning streak is not only the longest in the NBA this season, but gave the Nets the league’s second-best record (23-12) on Thursday. … It remains unclear if Joe Harris, who was left behind in Brooklyn to rest his sore left knee, will meet the team for Friday practice here.
The Nets’ game in New Orleans on Jan. 6 will now be televised by ESPN, with the game time moved to 7:30 p.m. (6:30 p.m. local time). However, YES Network will still stream the game.