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Nets say ‘increased level of focus’ needed with Warriors, Bucks, Cavs coming up

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Brooklyn Nets forward Royce O’Neale (00) dribbles against Toronto Raptors forward Juancho Hernangomez, right, during the second half of an NBA basketball game in Toronto, Friday, Dec. 16, 2022.
Cole Burston/The Canadian Press via AP

BROOKLYN — The Nets have clawed their way out of the hole where they started the season, but their next three games will really show just where this team stands. Brooklyn will host the Golden State Warriors and Milwaukee Bucks beginning Wednesday and travel to Cleveland on Monday in what are games that feature two of the best teams in the Eastern Conference, and a Golden State squad that is always tough.

While the Nets’ wins over their last 11 games are nothing to scoff at, beating the likes of the Bucks, Cavs and Warriors will help continue to prove that the Nets are still a team that can compete for a title. Brooklyn has won 10 of their last 11, making it hard not to take them seriously, but their one loss in that stretch came at the hands of the second-place Boston Celtics. 

The Nets have beaten some of the top teams in the league this year — they defeated the first-place team in the West, the Memphis Grizzlies in mid-November — but that has come when those teams have been missing some of their best players. The Grizzlies, for example, were without Ja Morant. 

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While the Warriors won’t have Steph Curry, they remain one of the league’s toughest teams.

“It’s a big challenge for us,” Royce O’Neale said about playing the upper echelon of the NBA. “So I think we gotta raise our level of play. The way we’ve been playing sometimes, you know, can’t come out with lack of energy.”

O’Neale was likely referencing the Nets’ issue lately of getting off to slow starts. They had that problem in both of their wins over the weekend which forced the Nets to have to come from behind.

Against teams like the Cavs or Bucks, falling behind early could mean the difference in the game. Nets coach Jacque Vaughn remained confident that the slow starts will turn around soon, noting that his starters had been getting consistently strong starts prior to the last two games. 

Still, the Nets coach, added that with the opponents coming up there will need to be a more focused approach.

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“Nothing changes as far as our format, whether that’s shootarounds or practice, of that nature,” Vaughn said. “Definitely has to be an increased level of focus and readiness. You don’t want to go into a game and dig yourself into a hole like we had the last two games double digits, because might not be any digging your way out are those.

“Overall healthy group and look forward to seeing game by game with that what that brings.” 

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