Nets playoff hopes lie heavily on rebound woes

If the Nets are going to go anywhere in the postseason, one area clearly needs improving — and it was on full display Thursday in their loss to the Kings.

“We talked about it the other day,’’ head coach Jacque Vaughn said. “I think we were 26th [in the league in defensive boxouts]. We can’t be in that 20 range.”

They’re actually 27th — allowing a whopping 11.5 offensive rebounds per game — and Thursday was even worse, with Sacramento grabbing 13 offensive boards.

And while Vaughn and the Nets gave credit to Kings star Domantas Sabonis, who had 21 rebounds, they were even more critical of their own effort.

Trey Lyles of the Sacramento Kings lays up a shot over Nic Claxton in the second half in the Nets 101-96 loss.
Paul J. Bereswill

“Every guy has to crash,’’ Vaughn said. “If you’re not touching somebody, then you’re wrong. If you’re not helping your teammate, then you’re wrong.”

The offensive rebound disparity had a glaring impact Thursday, as Sacramento outscored the Nets 16-0 on second-chance points.

And the Nets’ next opponent — the Nuggets, at Barclays Center on Sunday — won’t be any easier.

The Nets scored a narrow win at Denver last Sunday but were outrebounded, 49-28, including 15-4 on the offensive end.

As with Sacramento, they’ll have to deal with another dominant big man in Nikola Jokic, who had 20 rebounds last Sunday.

Cam Johnson said the Nets are well aware of what they have to do.

“The next team we’ve got has another guy that wants to get 20 rebounds,’’ Johnson said. “We’ve got to crash [the boards] and put a real emphasis on it.”

It’s something that wasn’t seen on Thursday — or, at times, in a loss at Oklahoma City on Tuesday.

“I think all five guys need to do a better job of participating,’’ Nic Claxton said. “We’ve all got to make sure we’re hitting somebody. It can’t just be two guys. It needs to be a five-man effort.”

The arrival of 7-foot-2 center Moses Brown, signed to a 10-day contract on Friday, may help on that front, but that won’t be enough by itself.

And with just a slim lead over the Heat for sixth place in the Eastern Conference — all the more important now because of the postseason’s play-in round — the Nets have little margin for error.

After Denver arrives on Sunday, the Nets have home games against the Cavaliers on Tuesday and Thursday as part of an arduous part of the schedule.

Mikal Bridges drives in between Sacramento Kings forward Domantas Sabonis and guard Malik Monk in the fourth quarter at Barclays Center.
Mikal Bridges drives in between Sacramento Kings forward Domantas Sabonis and guard Malik Monk in the fourth quarter at Barclays Center.

Ben Simmons remains out indefinitely with soreness in his back and neck.

Although Vaughn said the team is still operating under the belief the 6-foot-11 Simmons may be back, the reality is there are just 12 games remaining in the regular season and Simmons hasn’t played in more than a month.

Simmons’ absence, coupled with the trade of Kevin Durant at the deadline, has left the Nets undersized.

They’ve survived by playing “scrappy, gutty and dirty” as Johnson said following the loss to the Thunder.

But they followed that up with a less-than-stellar effort Thursday, after which Mikal Bridges said the Kings “played harder than us.”

The Nets won’t survive if that remains the case, and they have little time to change things before their next test.