Jason Kidd making defensive changes, trying to shake up Nets

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It’s all on Jason Kidd now.

Lawrence Frank is gone as a scapegoat, Kidd is in charge of the ship — a 5-14 ship with the worst defense in the NBA. You can see how bad the defense is by looking at the stats, where you see the Nets give up a league-worst 108.6 points per 100 possessions. You could see how bad the defense was when they gave up 113 points to a struggling Knicks team in an ugly loss at home Thursday night.

But in that Knicks game you could also start to see changes — Kidd trying to put his stamp on the defense that had been Frank’s purview. Kidd is trying mid-season to move the Nets to a more aggressive style of the Thibodeau-style defense that tries to take away drives with an extra defender on the strong side. They also changed up their pick-and-roll defense.

Kevin Garnett talked about it after the Thursday loss, speaking to The Brooklyn Game.

“We have a new system, we’re changing things on the fly,” Garnett explained at the podium following the blowout loss. “Jason’s putting in a lot of new stuff since Lawrence has left.”

Though Garnett didn’t go into detail, one change the Nets implemented in their film-only practice and pre-game shootaround was in the pick-and-roll, bringing the big man “up” slightly higher to contest the ballhandler at his point of attack. Both Kidd and forward Mirza Teletovic confirmed this after the game.

“(It’s) so the (guard doesn’t) snake around and get easy shots,” Teletovic explained about the schematic difference.

The Nets did pack the paint against the Knicks, a team that had shot 32 percent from three on the season coming into that game. But Knicks coach Mike Woodson had spent a lot of the last couple of his practices on getting and hitting better looks from three and the result Thursday was the Knicks hitting 16-of-27 from beyond the arc and running away with the game.

It’s an issue as the Nets have packed in their defense all season but have done a very poor job rotating out to contest spot up shooters, particularly from three. Opposing teams are getting 20.3 percent of their offensive opportunities on spot up shooters and those opponents are shooting 43.4 percent from three on catch-and-shoot opportunities (stats via Synergy Sports). Thursday night the Knicks got a lot of clean looks on jumpers as shots were not contested or the close out was late and half-hearted.

Give him this: Kidd is trying to do something with the pathetic Nets defense. But Devin Kharpertian wisely questions if this defensive switch has been made with the Nets personnel in mind.

The system Teletovic is referring to is “packing the paint,” a scheme popularized by Tom Thibodeau, head coach and defensive guru for the Chicago Bulls. But Thibodeau’s system relies on two personnel fits the Nets don’t have: an athletic big man who can roam from side to side in the paint to cut off drives (Bulls center Joakim Noah fits that description), and athletic guards who are quick enough to keep one foot in the paint and slide out to their man on the perimeter if a pass is thrown that way (Bulls wings Jimmy Butler, Luol Deng are two examples).

Kevin Garnett used to be that guy anchoring the middle for the Celtics, but he is not the same player anymore. He, like the entire Nets defense, looks slow and plodding. They have been better with the big body of Brook Lopez in the paint to protect the rim, but he’s not exactly quick or a defensive force.

If the defense continues to play this poorly Brooklyn will not turn it around.

And that’s all on Kidd now. Whether that’s fair or not, as one scout told Marc Stein at ESPN.

“But I blame Mikhail Prokhorov. You’re not going to hear a lot of sympathy [for Kidd] because there’s a lot of [veteran assistant] coaches in this league who want the chance he’s getting, but I feel for him because he’s been put in a really tough position. You’ve got all these injuries, you’ve got an unsettled staff [in the wake of Lawrence Frank’s reassignment], you’ve got a lot going on. Would Prokhorov buy a $200 million company in Russia and put a first-year guy in charge?”

Everything big and small goes right for DeMarcus Cousins in Warriors debut

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LOS ANGELES — It was the little things.

Not that DeMarcus Cousins’ overall line — he fouled out with 14 points on 5-of-11 shooting, 3-of-4 from three, six rebounds, three assists, one block, and he was +21, all in 15 minutes — was bad at all. In fact, it was pretty damn good. In his first game in nearly a year, Cousins looked like a slightly rusty version of himself. All the trademarks were there, from hitting threes to complaining about calls.

Cousins made the Warriors better from the moment he stepped on the court, and while the big things were obvious it was the little things should worry any challenger to the crown. For example:

• Cousins’ ability to not just score but to be a playmaker out of the midpost adds a new dimension to the Warriors offense.

• Cousins provides versatility to sets the Warriors already run regularly. For example, in the third quarter, he was the guy making the entry pass on the double-screen play the Warriors like, with Draymond Green in the post and Klay Thompson curing off the screens. Cousins set a hard screen that freed Thompson up for a clean look.

• He gives them another three-point shooter, one that creates matchup problems for defenses. The Clippers chose to chase Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson over picks and play on top of them, but that means the big has to drop back and protect against backcuts and drives. Do that with Cousins off the ball and he’s wide open for threes.

“I want to know what the scouting report is on me,” Cousins joked about how open he was from deep.

• Cousins is strong on the offensive glass and that’s going to lead to more kick-out threes for Golden State’s shooters.

• Cousins also gives the Warriors some defense. He’s a big body in the paint who knows how to get in the way. At one point on back-to-back plays Cousins drew a charge on Tobias Harris, then on the next trip down stripped Harris when he drove.

“Like a kid on Christmas,” Cousins said of how he felt on the night. “It’s been a long journey… this was probably one of the best days of my life, just being out on the floor again and playing the game that I love.”

Cousins was part of the Warriors picking up their seventh straight win, beating the Clippers 112-94. Curry led the way with 28 points.

Everything went Cousins’ way — he even got a standing ovation from the bench when he fouled out.

“Hopefully that’s the last time we give him a standing ovation when he fouls out, but it was great to see him out there,” Durant said.

“Probably all the fakest love I’ve received in my life,” Cousins joked.

The NBA world shook when Cousins signed with the Warriors last July. Everyone knew it was going to take him a long time to get healthy and right, but Golden State was a team that could be patient and wait for him, not rush him back, and when he did play it would be another weapon to punish switches or just use in their existing sets.

“I thought, good for him. It’s a good spot for him,” Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers said of his reaction when he read about the Cousins signing. “And then I thought, wow, that’s not right.”

Cousins started the game with Curry, Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green, which meant nobody could really double him.

“This is a first, like in my entire basketball career,” Cousins said of the lack of doubles thrown at him. “I definitely can get used to this.”

Cousins’ first bucket as a Warrior was a thunderous dunk, one created because his man had to focus on Durant (and Danilo Gallinari was late with the rotation).

“I’m just glad to know I can still dunk,” Cousins joked.

Cousins said he was nervous before the game but his girlfriend sent him a picture of himself in the hospital, sitting in a wheelchair the day after his surgery. That helped put the journey in perspective.

“It’s been a year since his injury, he’s gone through a long rehab process…” Kerr said before the game. “This is not the end of the story, this is sort of the middle of the story and it’s a milestone but there is a long way to go.”

Cousins is going to get better at things big and small as that journey continues.

Which should scare the rest of the NBA.

DeMarcus Cousins’ first bucket as a Warrior is a monster jam

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LOS ANGELES — DeMarcus Cousins sure looked his hops are back on this throw down.

Cousins started for the Warriors Friday night after missing almost a full year with a torn Achilles, and on the Warriors first possession they fed him the rock in the post. Cousins faced up on Marcin Gortat, drove baseline with a nice first step, but got caught under the basket and couldn’t power it up through the Clipper big, getting his shot blocked.

Nobody was blocking his next shot.

It was a side pick-and-roll where Gortat had to cut off Durant’s drive, but Danilo Gallinari didn’t tag into the middle to cut off Cousins’ roll (or, made the business decision not to). The result was an impressive first bucket for DeMarcus as a Warrior.

Cousins’ first shift was three minutes long. He’s on a minutes restriction for a while.

D’Angelo Russell drops 40 on Magic including shot that put Nets up for good

Associated Press
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D'Angelo Russell is playing like a guy in a contract year. And that’s just fine with Brooklyn.

Russell tied his career best with 40 points Friday night against the Magic, including hitting the shot that put the Nets up for good on the night with 27 seconds remaining. Russell was 16-of-25 shooting, including 8-of-12 from three, and he was an analytics dream — Russell took all but one of his shots either in the paint or from three.

The Nets — now 24-23 on the season and the sixth seed in the East — came from 21 back to get the win and that included their guards hitting the big shots at the end.

First up was Spencer Dinwiddie.

Then came Russell’s shot that proved to be the game winner.

With the Nets extending Dinwiddie during the season, it’s unlikely Russell returns to Brooklyn next season, but a number of teams are interested in him as a free agent (restricted, the Nets can match if the offer is low).

Report: Isaiah Thomas could return to Nuggets right before All-Star break

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The Denver Nuggets have shown off their depth this season. Three starters — Will Barton, Gary Harris, and Paul Millsap — have missed a chunk of time and yet until a few days ago the Nuggets were the top seed in the West, and they are still a clear second.

And all of that without Isaiah Thomas, their biggest name reserve. He has been recovering from hip surgery last March.

The Nuggets are hoping Thomas will make his debut next month, right before the All-Star Break, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Thomas has been gathering momentum in his rehabilitation process from hip surgery in March, and there’s hope among Thomas and the Nuggets organization he could return as soon as a Feb. 11-13 homestand against Miami and Sacramento, sources said.

There’s strong confidence that he will return no later than the first game after the All Star break on Feb. 22 in Dallas, league sources said….

The final hurdle for Thomas remains playing full 5-on-5 scrimmages. He is expected to start that process soon.

Thomas was playing well and playing through pain in Boston, becoming a fan favorite and pulling that team into the postseason, before his hip injury caught up with him. He tried to recover without surgery playing for the Cavaliers and Lakers last season, but that never really worked like he hoped. He had the surgery and signed a one-year deal with the Nuggets.

Thomas could provide a playmaking guard off the bench, although Monte Morris has filled that role for the Nuggets so well he gets mentioned as a most improved player candidate. Coach Mike Malone will need to finesse the minutes to get both of them touches and involved. How much Thomas can help the Nuggets in the playoffs depends on how he recovers (he has always been a defensive liability because of his size, which factors in as well).

If Thomas can show he would have value as a bench player he will have teams calling next July about a much bigger contract. He has motivation, and he’s popular around the league — people want to see him succeed. But is he fully healthy and does he still have the lateral explosiveness that made him so hard to stop on drives to the rim? We should find out the final couple months of the season.