All the Nets have to do to stop a short losing streak that has the potential to grow into a five-alarm fire is to beat an NBA title contender led by an MVP playing at his top form.
In other words, repeat exactly what they did seven days ago.
Not only did the Nets win at Western Conference-leading Denver last Sunday, but also they did so while overcoming a triple-double from Nuggets superstar Nikola Jokic.
The Nuggets, who suffered a 116-110 loss to the Knicks on Saturday at the Garden, will visit Barclays Center on Sunday looking for revenge.
“I told the guys [Friday], ‘Some dudes get up to the plate and you don’t pitch to them,’ ” head coach Jacque Vaughn said, using a baseball metaphor. “We have to have a strategy of who we are going to pitch to. That game, we said we were going to let Jokic do what he was doing and see if we could [contain] the other guys.
“We’ll see if that formula is the same. They’re a smart team, they’ll make some adjustments. What I did like in that game was we played with a lot of energy, we were scrambling around, very scrappy, played small. Those things we will probably see again.”
Since that 122-120 victory at Denver, the Nets have lost to the Thunder and Kings.
Two straight losses can become three, three can become five and five can become crushing to playoff seeding very quickly if the Nets do not respond during the biggest week of their season.
“We understand what it means to play playoff teams,” guard Spencer Dinwiddie said. “We’re approaching it with that level of focus.”
The rematch with the Nuggets precedes a home-and-home against the Cavaliers and a trip to Miami to face the Heat, who are nipping at the Nets’ heels in the race for the Eastern Conference’s No. 6 seed and avoidance of the play-in tournament.
“We all know math. We all see the seeding,” Dinwiddie said. “We all know that.”
The two-time MVP Jokic, who had 24 points and 10 rebounds as Denver nevertheless lost at the Knicks on Saturday, demands single-minded focus.
Last Sunday, Nic Claxton had no answer defensively, but the Nets found ways to counterpunch at the other end.
“The bigger, stronger guys, a lot of times they are in that kind of blitz coverage, so we can play a short roll to Nic. Also it’s going to open up a lot more passing lanes for myself,” Dinwiddie said. “If we make 3s, we have a chance to have a dynamic game like we did in Denver.”
Dinwiddie had 16 assists to spark the win against the Nuggets, swinging the ball out of traps with “quick and decisive decisions” to feed into the Nets’ 17 3-pointers.
The Nuggets’ excuse-making afterward was that they took the foot off the gas in the third quarter and allowed the Nets to go on a 37-18 run isn’t bulletin-board material.
“They are the No. 1 team in the West, so it’s fair for them to say that,” Dinwiddie said. “They’ve had a couple losses in a row [five of the last six games] so they are probably trying to stop the bleeding and figure themselves out, so I expect them to be motivated. That doesn’t change how we approach them because we have our own things we are fighting for.”
Vaughn won’t look at the bigger picture.
The 6-foot-11 Jokic is big enough.
“The first thing I said when I got up this morning was, ‘I’m not looking ahead,’ ” Vaughn said. “I really don’t want them to look down the line too far. So many things could come into play at the end of the year. That team is good enough that we have enough problems to deal with that we don’t want to exacerbate it by putting any more pressure on top of it.”