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Nets to regroup after ‘warning shot’ in opener

The top three teams in the NBA last season in offensive rebounds per game were the Grizzlies, Raptors and Pelicans.

That trio, albeit not in that order, just happen to be the Nets’ first three opponents this season.

With All-Star forward Zion Williamson back in the New Orleans lineup for the first time since May 2021, the Nets were positively dominated by the Pelicans on the boards in a 130-108 season-opening defeat Wednesday night at Barclays Center.

The Pelicans controlled a whopping 61-39 rebounding edge — including 21-9 on the offensive glass — resulting in an astounding 36-4 advantage in second-chance points in their blowout victory.

“My message to the guys was just the raising our standards of competition,” Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said after the game. “We gave up 21 offensive rebounds and turned the ball over [16 times]. We let them in our paint way too often. Things we had been preparing for, we’ve been working on, and we just didn’t execute.

Zion Williamson shoots the ball over the Nets defense.
NBAE via Getty Images

“It’s a process for our group, but at the same time, there’s competitive standards and it’s an opportunity for us to grow every night here. But we have to compete at a high level. … That was a great kind of warning shot of what the standard is.”

Those adjustments will need to be made quickly, with a home game against Toronto on Friday night and a visit to Memphis slated for Monday. The Grizzlies led the league with an average of 14.1 offensive rebounds last season, followed by the Raptors (13.4) and the Pelicans (12.0).

The Nets finished 14th in the NBA with 10.3 offensive boards per game, but they didn’t retain veteran big men Andre Drummond, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin in the offseason.

Nic Claxton is the full-time starting center, and he’s backed up by 2021 first-round pick Day’Ron Sharpe. They combined for 18 rebounds against the Pelicans, followed by seven for Kevin Durant and five for Ben Simmons. Veteran power forward Markieff Morris played only three minutes off the bench.

“We’re never going to be the biggest team, we’re not going to lead the league in rebounds, but there’s still a level of understanding that that’s a weakness for us,” Nash said. “We’ve talked about it every day. We have to come back and double-team on the glass and flood it.

“That’s a part of just being competitive and being aware and understanding where our weaknesses are and trying to combat them from the start.”

Steve Nash talks to Kevin Durant during the Nets’ loss to the Pelicans.
Corey Sipkin

Durant shook his head while noting the 36-4 disparity in second-chance points off the postgame stat sheet, stressing “[you’re] never gonna win like that.”

“[They were] just flying in,” Durant added. “You’ve got to box out a little bit. They’re just flying in and getting their hands on the basketball. … We’ve just got to be better moving forward. I’m glad we got a game coming up here in a day or so.”

Before sitting out all of last season in Philadelphia and Brooklyn due to mental health and back issues, the 6-foot-10 Simmons had averaged 8.1 rebounds per game over his first four years in the league.

The Nets were minus-22 against New Orleans in the 12 minutes that Durant, Kyrie Irving and Simmons were on the floor together.

“It’s a grown man’s league and the most physical team wins,” Irving said. “We have to improve on these areas that are considered weaknesses right now and that’s boxing out and doing the little things. Those details are really going to dictate our season. It’s how often and how consistent are we going to be dedicated to doing the little things, which is boxing out, as you saw?

“The same plays that demoralize the fans at home demoralize us as players on the court when they consistently get second-chance points and offensive rebounds and they’re doing the little things that really decide a game.”

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