ATLANTA — Fight or fold.
That’s the choice Jacque Vaughn has put in front of his Nets.
The humiliating loss Friday in Chicago was the worst beating the Nets have taken in almost two decades. And they get less than two days to recover from it.
“How are we going to react after this? Are we going to fold? Or are we going to get ready for the next one and be better?” Mikal Bridges said of Vaughn’s message. “I think everyone in that locker room is not going to fold, and we’re all going to be better. It starts with [Saturday], and we’re all going to learn from it, 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 their game Sunday at the Hawks still stinging from the 131-87 pasting at the hands of the Bulls. That 44-point final margin was the fourth-most lopsided loss in team history and their worst since Dec. 13, 2003.
“I’m looking forward to how we’ll respond,” Vaughn said. “But it’s going to be a test of our collective unit, doing everything you possibly can every single day — off days, recovery days — in order to give your all to your team.
“And it’s got to be unconditional, too. It’s not, ‘If I play this amount of minutes, if I get this amount of shots.’ You have to be an unconditional teammate at this time of year, because teams are playing for position, teams are playing to get into the playoffs. So you cannot have nights like [Friday] where we play this bad.”
“This bad” doesn’t begin to describe how poor the Nets were. They have been blown out by 43, 18 and 44 points in their last three road games, which is worrisome with the tilt at Atlanta looming.
“It’s going to be a true test. And not only the basketball piece, but the character piece of helping your teammate out and leaning into being a great teammate,” Vaughn said. “So that challenge of pulling for the guy that’s next to you — you might not be getting minutes, and he might be getting minutes more than you — that’s where we’re at as a group.
“I said that to the group, this is not going to be a one-man show. We don’t have the one-man show. It’s going to be a collective unit. We’ve got to understand that and approach the game that way and play with a nastiness about us at the beginning of the game to set a tone of aggressiveness. … So it’s an unfortunate lesson for us; I hope we learn the lesson extremely quick.”
As in by 3 p.m. Sunday.
The Nets traded their two-man show of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving before the deadline, then stumbled badly Friday night in their first game out of the All-Star break. They were outrebounded by 26 and trailed by as many as 50 points.
“Yeah, the effort has to be there,” Nic Claxton said. “We know we have to play extremely hard. We’re not going to be the most talented team on the court every night, so we have to surpass the other team’s effort. And we didn’t do that. All around it was just a terrible game.”
Bridges, Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith were all acquired in the trades of Durant and Irving, but have already taken on leadership roles. So when Vaughn purposely let them stew for a little longer than normal Friday — giving them extra time to discuss the error of their ways — they were among those who spoke up in the locker room.
“I think everybody had opinions on what went wrong. Royce [O’Neale] spoke up, several guys spoke up, Mikal, Do’, myself,” Dinwiddie said. “That’s part of it in any postgame. Just understanding the fact that a 40-point beatdown is unacceptable for certain, All-Star break or not.”
“We all knew we had to be better and just talked about how we have to be better on both ends. … We all, as a unit, know you can’t play like this if you want to win, so we just have to be better,” Bridges said. “There’s only 20-something games left, so we have to find who we are rapidly.”