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How Nets turned it around to become the NBA’s hottest team

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How Nets turned it around to become the NBA's hottest team

The Nets came home Monday after the first 5-0 western trip in team history, part of a league-high six-game winning streak.

It’s a bounce-back for the Nets, who had bottomed out with a humiliating loss in Detroit. From that point — just 14-12 and mired in a three-game losing skid — they’ve become the hottest team in basketball and a favorite to reach the NBA Finals. How did that happen?

They’re figuring out the defense, particularly switching.

Brooklyn has doubled down on that even more since trading for James Harden.

Before Harden’s arrival, the Nets were switching picks 20 percent of the time, 3 percent above the league average. But through his first 14 games post-trade, that vaulted to 33 percent, which would lead the league this season according to Second Spectrum tracking. Going into Sunday’s win at the Clippers, they’d switched a staggering 41 percent of picks on the perfect western swing.

In many ways, it makes sense. Only three teams in the tracking era (since 2013-14) have switched over 40 percent — the Rockets the past three years, led by Harden and coached by current Nets assistant Mike D’Antoni.

“They switch 1-through-5 when Jeff Green is at the 5, and they switch 1-through-4 and drop when DeAndre [Jordan] is in the game. But the matchup that you think they wouldn’t switch, they do switch,” said Clippers coach Ty Lue. “It makes teams stagnant.”

Steve Nash is growing as a coach

Nash, who’d never served as an assistant, has been learning on the job.

He’s kept an upbeat tone but knew when to get on his team in the wake of the loss in Detroit. Despite guard Bruce Brown’s shortcomings as a shooter, Nash has found creative ways to use him as a cutter, screener and 6-foot-2 pseudo-center.

And Nash’s adjustments in Phoenix were impressive. He deployed a zone defense he hasn’t shown all season to help cool off the Suns. Then he pulled Jordan out of his usual drop coverage and had him switch for the first time all season — letting them switch 1-through-5, and daring Deandre Ayton to punish them. It let them rally from a 21-point halftime deficit, the biggest deficit overturned in team history.

The Nets got tough enough

The Nets didn’t have to be the Bad Boy Pistons; they just couldn’t afford to be historically bad, which is exactly how they’d been performing.

“That’s a nonnegotiable step in any team’s aspirations to have that resolve and toughness and connectivity,” said Nash.

In the first 13 games after the Harden trade, the Nets were just 7-6 and dead last in the NBA in defensive rating. But in the winning streak they’ve shown more fortitude on that end, up to 21st. That’s been enough to see their net rating vault from 18th in the league up to fourth.

“Night and day from when I first got here. We’re playing hard now, and we’re playing smart,” said Harden. “The most I’m proud of is our mindset every game, every possession. We don’t take our opponent lightly at all, no matter who we’re playing. It’s the same goal. It’s the same mindset.”


Kevin Durant (left hamstring strain) is out Tuesday. Green (right shoulder contusion) and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot (right hip contusion) are questionable, while Tyler Johnson (left adductor tightness) and Iman Shumpert (left hamstring strain) are probable.


Harden was named the Eastern Conference Player of the Week for the second time since joining the Nets.

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Donald Douglas, longtime PSAL executive director, dead at 58

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Donald Douglas, longtime PSAL executive director, dead at 58

Donald Douglas, the longtime executive director of the Public School Athletic League, died late Friday night, according to friend and PSAL colleague Dwayne Burnett.

Douglas was 58, according to his Facebook page.

Douglas died of a heart attack, while vacationing on the island of Jamaica, after a bad fall eventually caused a blood clot to form, according to Burnett. The Brooklyn native and Bushwick High School alum had retired this week from his post. He was PSAL director since 2004, when he was promoted from deputy director, and spent more than 35 years working for the New York City Department of Education.

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Don’t make this catcher mistake

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Don’t make this catcher mistake

The 2021 fantasy baseball draft season is upon us, and with its arrival comes a variety of strategies to test out and employ.

Drafting with position scarcity in mind is something we see every year, and though the catcher position is routinely linked to the strategy, the belief that you need to draft one of the top backstops early is a mistake. If you have been leaning in that direction, it’s time to change gears before you fall over.

In fantasy football, position scarcity has people drafting No. 1-ranked tight end Travis Kelce early because, in securing him, you are obtaining a significant advantage over your opposition. His production dwarfs that of anyone else at his position and on a 10-man roster in a weekly matchup, the impact is huge. The same cannot be said regarding the No. 1 catcher, J.T. Realmuto.

There is plenty to love about Realmuto from a fantasy perspective. His three-year average has him as a .273 hitter with 25 home runs and 81 RBIs. The numbers are strong, but does drafting him in the fourth or fifth round over a 40-homer Pete Alonso or a 200-strikeout Lance Lynn still give you an advantage? Not when you understand it’s just one-fourteenth of your overall team production or when you see what you can get at the position several rounds later.

Casting aside 2020 data, we can look at a number of backstops who not only hit 20 or more home runs, but also hit .270 or better in 2019 and can be obtained at a much lower cost. Willson Contreras, Mitch Garver, Christian Vazquez and Omar Narvaez immediately stand out.

JT Realmuto
JT Realmuto
Getty Images

You also have players such as Yasmani Grandal and Roberto Perez, who matched the power, but fell short on the batting average, or James McCann and Travis d’Arnaud, who posted strong averages, but hit for slightly less power. That’s already eight players who can provide similar numbers at a fraction of the cost, and we’re just scratching the surface.

If Realmuto was a .300-30-100 player, the conversation would certainly be different. He’s a great player but he isn’t performing at a level that leaves your opposition in the dust. If his production can be matched 10 rounds later, you’re better off using that early pick on an elite arm or a bigger bat at another position. Leave your catchers for later.

Howard Bender is the VP of operations and head of content at FantasyAlarm.com. Follow him on Twitter @rotobuzzguy and catch him on the award-winning “Fantasy Alarm Radio Show” on the SiriusXM fantasy sports channel weekdays from 6-8 p.m. Go to FantasyAlarm.com for all your fantasy football advice.

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Mets star Pete Alonso opens up on why he quit social media

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Mets star Pete Alonso opens up on why he quit social media

PORT ST. LUCIE — Pete Alonso wasn’t the only big voice in the Mets organization to deactivate his social media accounts over the offseason.

But the first baseman going dark on Twitter and Instagram had nothing to do with the aftermath of a stock market saga, which was the reason owner Steve Cohen ditched Twitter, and everything to do with a new outlook on life away from a screen.

“I think that real life is just absolutely fantastic and for me, I think life is a blessing, it’s something that I feel like a lot of people, sometimes including myself, take for granted,” Alonso said Friday after a workout. “And I want to spend every second soaking in every single day because every single new day is a blessing, and I feel like especially in wake of what happened last year, there’s a lot of things that I feel like were taken for granted.

“In 2019, if you see everybody wearing this mask, you kind of scratch your head and just be like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on?’ But there’s a lot of new social norms that are in place now that we took for granted. I think for me, I just want to be appreciative of every single day. I want to live in real life.”

Alonso had been one of the more active Mets interacting with fans through social media, especially during his Rookie of the Year season in 2019, when he adopted “#LFGM” as the team’s new rallying cry.

Though he will no longer be in touch with fans online, Alonso is very much looking forward to welcoming them back in person at Citi Field this season. After playing at an empty stadium in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Mets are expected to have at least a portion of Citi Field open to fans when the 2021 season begins.

“Playing on TV is absolutely fantastic, but being there in person where one swing of the bat or making a diving play or striking somebody out, you can make that many people in person smile, stand, clap, cheer, yell even just by doing something,” Alonso said, with a big smile breaking out. “Once I heard 40,000 people at Citi Field go absolutely bonkers, that’s an adrenaline rush that I’m addicted to.

“I can’t wait until it’s packed out again like that. If it’s 25 percent, 30 percent, I can’t wait to hear people cheer again in person. For me, it’s addicting, and I love it.”

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