The “true test” for the Nets is ahead after the ugly loss

ATLANTA — Fight or lose.

That’s the option Zach Vaughn has put in front of his Nets.

Friday’s humiliating loss in Chicago was the Nets’ worst loss in nearly two decades. And they have less than two days to recover from it.

“How will we react after this? Shall we fold? Or will we prepare for the next one and be better?” Mikal Bridges said of Vaughn’s message. “I think everyone in this locker room is going to be tough, and we’re all going to be better. It starts with [Saturday]and we’re all going to learn from it and watch film and try to figure out who we are and what we can do better and get ready for Atlanta.”

The Nets will enter Sunday’s game at the Hawks still stinging from a 131-87 loss at the hands of the Bulls. That final margin of 44 points was the fourth-most lopsided loss in team history and the worst since December. 13, 2003.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how we respond,” Vaughn said. “But it’s going to be a test of our collective unit, doing what you can every day — days off, recovery days — to give everything to your team.

Brooklyn Nets coach Zach Vaughn talks with Cam Thomas #24 of the Brooklyn Nets and Spencer Dinwiddie #26 of the Brooklyn Nets during the fourth quarter.  The Brooklyn Nets defeated the Chicago Bulls 116-105.
The Nets will look to bounce back from one of their worst losses in franchise history.
Charles Wenzelberg/New York Post

“And it must also be unconditional. It’s not, “If I play this many minutes, if I get this many shots.” You have to be an unconditional teammate in this era, because teams are playing for position, teams are playing to get into the playoffs. So you can’t have nights like [Friday] where we play so badly.”

“This bad” doesn’t begin to describe how poor the Nets have been. They’ve been outscored by 43, 18 and 44 points in their last three road games, which is concerning with the tilt in Atlanta looming.

“It will be a real test. And not just the basketball part, but the character part of helping your teammate go out and being a great teammate,” Vaughn said. “So that challenge of pulling for the guy next to you — you might not get minutes and he might get more minutes than you — that’s where we are as a team.

“I told the group that this is not going to be a one-man show. We don’t have a one man show. It will be a collective unit. We have to understand that and approach the game that way and play with a nastiness about us early in the game to give a tone of aggression. … So it’s an unfortunate lesson for us. I hope we learn the lesson extremely quickly.”

Like at 3 in the afternoon on Sunday.

The Nets traded their two-man show for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving before the deadline, then stumbled badly Friday night in their first game back from the All-Star break. They had 26 rebounds and trailed by as many as 50 points.

Chicago Bulls' Patrick Beverley drives the ball past Brooklyn Nets' Mikal Bridges during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Feb. 24, 2023, in Chicago.  The Bulls won 131-87.
Bridges said everyone in the Nets locker room is not going to give up after the crushing loss.
AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast

“Yeah, the effort has to be there,” Nic Claxton said. “We know we have to play very hard. We’re not going to be the most talented team on the court every night, so we have to outscore the other team. And we didn’t do that. All around it was just a terrific game.”

Bridges, Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith were acquired in the Durant and Irving trade, but they have already taken on leadership roles. So when Vaughn purposely let them simmer a little longer than normal Friday — giving them extra time to discuss their mistake — he was among those who spoke in the locker room.

“I think everybody had opinions about what went wrong. royce [O’Neale] talked, a lot of guys talked, Mikal, Do’, me,” Dinwiddie said. “That’s part of it in any postgame. Just understanding the fact that a 40-point beatdown is unacceptable for sure, whether it’s the All Star break or not.”

“We all knew we had to be better and we just talked about how we had to be better on both ends. … We all, as a unit, know you can’t play like that if you want to win, so we just have to be better,” Bridges said. “There are only 20 games left, so we have to find who we are quickly.”