Three things to know: Jacque Vaughn has Nets defending, winning
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1) Jacque Vaughn has Nets defending, winning
Steve Nash was not the cause of all things wrong in Brooklyn.
However, the Nets needed a jolt. Nash felt he had lost the team (some might say he never had it), and the Nets were going through the motions and getting beat nightly. A coaching change was the way to shake this team out of its doldrums.
The Nets under Jacque Vaughn have a +10.1 net rating that is the best in the league through the last seven games (they have been unlucky and gone 4-3 in those games, but are playing better).
That change started on the defensive end, where the Nets were dead last in the league under Nash. Making moves that were less about Xs and Os and more about just getting guys to play with real urgency and commitment, the Nets rallied since Vaughn took over and have had the best defensive net rating in the league through the last seven games (101.5).
The offense had a middle-of-the-pack 111.5 rating through that same time, which isn’t bad considering it is the Kevin Durant show — there is no Kyrie Irving and Ben Simmons is coming off the bench and not contributing much when he does play (a knee issue is keeping him out right now).
None of that showed on Sunday, the second night of a back-to-back in Los Angeles in the middle of a long road trip, when Brooklyn came out flat and got steamrolled by an aggressive Anthony Davis, who put up 37 points and 18 boards in a 116-103 Lakers win.
However, the day before, Seth Curry got hot and scored 14 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter as the Nets held the Clippers to 95 points and got a 15-point win.
Vaughn is a former NBA player and head coach who had been with the Nets since Kenny Atkinson came in back in 2016. He had built relationships with the players, which allowed him to push them.
“It’s been great from Day 1 he got the interim job,” Curry told Brian Lewis at the New York Post. “I didn’t know what would happen, but he came in and was honest with us and just saying, ‘I’m going to work hard every day. Every day they ask me to be the interim head coach, I’m going to come in, I’m going to coach you guys as good as I can.’ That kind of mindset riled the team, that’s kind of the mindset we took on every day.”
Can the Nets keep it up? Can they evolve not only into a playoff team but a real threat in the East under Vaughn?
Maybe. It depends on how Irving fits in whenever he returns (or is that disruptive and a distraction). It depends on if Vaughn can find a way to get more out of Simmons and the Nets’ role players. It depends on Durant’s health.
But Vaughn has turned the Nets into a respectable team that plays hard and defends. That’s a huge first step.
2) Joel Embiid drops 59 on Jazz, has scored 101 over last two games
The 76ers started out 1-2 and the offense stumbled after James Harden went out. Tyrese Maxey was struggling to fill Harden’s playmaking shoes and through those first three games, the Sixers scored less than a point per possession.
Then MVP Joel Embiid showed up for the last two games for Philly and took over. He had 42 on Saturday against the Hawks.
Sunday he dropped a career-high 59 points on the Jazz, shooting 19-of-28 and getting to the free throw line 24 times (hitting 20). Maxey said he started ignoring Doc Rivers’ calls to run pick and rolls to feed Embiid and let him go to work.
Embiid had more points (59) than the Jazz starters combined (53).
It wasn’t just offense — Embiid had five blocked shots in the fourth quarter. If the 76ers are going to climb up a level and compete with the Bucks and Celtics in the playoffs, it’s that end of the floor where Embiid has to make his biggest impact. That Embiid has shown up the last two games.
He’ll get a chance to show that next weekend when the 76ers have a Bucks than Timberwolves back-to-back.
3) We’re not talking enough about Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
In the way-to-early MVP conversations bouncing around NBA Twitter, a few names have bubbled up: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum, Stephen Curry.
What about the guy averaging 30.5 points per game on a 62.8 true shooting percentage, dishing out 5.5 assists a night, and is top eight in the league in about every advanced stat?
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is tearing up the NBA. Sunday, he tore up the Knicks to the tune of 21 points in the third, and 37 points and eight assists for the game.
Josh Giddey had a triple-double of 24 points, 12 assists, and 10 rebounds and the Thunder went into Madison Square Garden and got the win 145-135.
The 6-7 Knicks got booed off the court in Madison Square Garden and their defensive effort deserved that. The Knicks came out flat for the early game and gave up the most points it has in the Thibodeau era (although OKC was red hot from 3, hitting 17-of-31).
Knicks fans may not have liked what they got from their team, but at least they got to watch Gilgeous-Alexander, one of the best players in the NBA this young season.