After two-day rest, Nets back to the grind

12/07/2012 9:57 AM ET
By Lou DiPietro

Avery Johnson gave his starters two days off after Tuesday's loss to the Thunder.(AP)
As Avery Johnson said after Tuesday’s Nets loss to Oklahoma City, the NBA season is one of cycles.

That game was an oasis of sorts for Brooklyn, which had just finished a cycle in which it played nine games in 14 days in seven different cities. The Nets had two “off days” between the end of that trip and their meeting with the Thunder, and got another two days off before tonight’s game against Golden State.

But as the schedule says, their tilt with the Warriors begins a cycle that will see the Brooklynites play eight times in 13 days – and while that stretch does at least include five games at home and a sixth at Madison Square Garden, the fact that six of those eight come in a trio of back-to-back sets means that it will still be a rough ride into the final days of 2012 for the Nets.

And that, said head coach Avery Johnson, is why he decided to give his starters the last two days off.

“We’re coming out of that stretch where we played nine games in 14 days, and we’re going to give our guys some rest,” Johnson said following Tuesday’s loss. “We need to kind of get our legs back under us and get some guys healthy.”

Despite the physical benefit of that respite, making the decision to somewhat suspend activities was a tough one for Johnson. Throughout the season, the coach has continually stressed the fact that with so many new parts, it’s vital to get the players as much experience together as possible – but that said, he pointed to the events leading up to last Friday’s win in Orlando as evidence that sometimes, a little “R&R” is the right medicine.

“Finding a balance is tricky, and that’s a tough part of coaching; it’s not just what we do or adjustments we making during a game, it’s knowing your team,” Johnson said on a conference call Thursday. “The prime example is that we had a scheduled hard practice in Orlando (last Thursday), but after the Boston game, I decided that I wanted the whole team to meet me at the pool at noon for lunch, and we weren’t going to go to the gym; we’d meet at the pool, have lunch, have a little bonding day, and the guys could do what they do. That’s what we did, and the next night, we played lights out basketball, especially in the second half.”

A similar scenario worked for star point guard Deron Williams, who himself was given two days off in between the Nets’ games against Miami (last Saturday) and Oklahoma City (Tuesday). Brooklyn may have lost both, but Williams broke out of a shooting slump in a big way against the Thunder, tallying 33 points and shooting 5-for-9 from beyond the arc.

“It was very encouraging (to see Williams break out), and we thought the rest was very beneficial; he had a lot of energy, got off to a pretty good start, and his 3-point shot was much better and he was much more confident,” Johnson said.

Will it work again? Johnson thinks so.

“The two days (Deron’s) had off now to kind of get his body back even more…I think you’re going to see him come out with that kind of energy again (tonight),” he said. “We went through a real rough stretch where we had nine games in 14 days, and a lot of our guys were dealing with some bangs and bruises, but he had good energy and I think you’re going to see that continue.”

It will have to, as the Nets’ next stretch starts with the game against the 11-7 Warriors, includes a second home date against the Atlantic Division-leading Knicks, and ends with that trip to MSG on Dec. 19. They’ll get a three-day respite after that game, and they’ll likely need it, because their Barclays battle against Philadelphia on Dec. 23 kicks off another nine games-in-14 days extravaganza.

All in a season’s work, says Johnson, who did say there may be one benefit to having their early-season schedule bunched together so much, drawing a parallel between his team and the one they went toe-to-toe with less than 72 hours ago.

“When you’re together for a whole year, and you go through all the highs and lows of the regular season, and you go through the playoffs and get to the Finals (like OKC did in 2011-12)…you can’t duplicate that type of experience,” he said. “For us, every game matters for us; every game Joe (Johnson) and Deron play together, and Gerald (Wallace) plays, and once we get Brook (Lopez) back…those guys just need time and experience on the floor. Once we get there, we’re going to start to take that next step.”

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