Already coming off a rare porous team-wide defensive effort in Monday’s second-half meltdown against Orlando, the Nets face a more personalized challenge Wednesday night in Washington.
Shooting guard and noted All-Star snub Bradley Beal has gone off for 53 and 55 points in the Wizards’ past two games, becoming the first NBA player to exceed 50 on consecutive nights since Kobe Bryant did it in 2007.
Washington, which lost to both Chicago and Milwaukee despite Beal’s performances, is the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff standings, trailing No. 8 Orlando by 4 ½ games and the seventh-place Nets by six.
“We haven’t found a way to slow him down, so it’s not like we have some magic formula,” said coach Kenny Atkinson, whose team allowed Beal 34 points in a 113-107 Washington win on Feb. 1. “He’s playing great. And sure they’ve lost a couple in a row, but I think you have to give them a lot of credit.
“I don’t think anybody thought Washington would be in the playoff chase, and here they are. They’re in the conversation. Great job by [coach] Scott [Brooks] and his staff, but big credit to Bradley. He’s playing great. And he plays both ends, too.”
Beal’s offensive binge has upped his scoring average this season to 30.1 points per game, trailing only Houston’s James Harden (35.3). That stat makes it even more absurd that the two-time All-Star wasn’t selected this season, becoming the first player to average at least 28 points and not make the squad since Golden State’s Purvis Short in 1984-85.
“He’s a great player, obviously. He plays with a chip on his shoulder every single game, so I’m not sure if it really changes anything,” Nets guard Caris LeVert said. “Obviously, they’re really hungry to get a win. Obviously, how well he’s playing hasn’t really resulted in that fashion.
“So we just gotta go in there and play as hard as we can, and lock in to the principles and the game plan and I think we’ll be in good shape. … I feel like whenever we play a player like that, it’s a team effort.”
Before practice Tuesday, Atkinson reviewed the Nets’ shoddy defensive effort in the second half of Monday’s giveaway loss, in which they allowed 74 points after intermission to flush a 19-point advantage.
“Every night now in the NBA there’s some guy, it seems like, and there’s elite guys like Bradley, I agree with that, so we’ll throw different guys at him, we’ll throw different defenses at him like we’ve done in the past,” Atkinson said. “I know we can’t give up 74 points in a half. We’ve got to figure that one out. And our defense has been great quite honestly, so [I’m] disappointed we had a half like that.”
The Nets entered Monday’s game with the second-best defensive rating in the NBA in February, including a smothering of Phoenix’s leading scorer, Devin Booker (15 points on 3-for-15 shooting) on Feb. 3.
Similarly, with Beal, Joe Harris said, the Nets will “try and make stuff tough on him, limit his touches, make him work for everything and hope that he has somewhat of an inefficient night.”
“This league is unforgiving, but I think it’s gonna be our level of focus,” Atkinson added. “I think we are focused. I feel good about the group. It’s not a group that’s teetering, like, ‘Oh man, this is gonna fall off.’ We’re in a good place. We’re playing well. We’ve got good guys, we’ve got a good system.
“So things should work out, but you’re nervous, because you don’t want it to fall off a cliff — which drives us, which motivates us. The game [Monday] night, it motivates us. We’re all in the locker room, like ‘Man, we know we let it slip and we want to get it back,’ and we will get it back.”