Ten games into the season, Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn isn’t sure what to make of his team.
They’re 5-5 and after a three-game winning streak, dropped three of four against the Celtics, Bucks and Clippers.
“You take a look at our schedule, we probably played four teams that probably think they can win the championship and the fifth team that was in the championship last year,’’ Vaughn said of facing the aforementioned three teams, as well as Dallas and Miami, in the opening weeks of the season.
“And so, for our group to stay together through this, still trying to find an identity on both ends of the floor, I give them a lot of credit for staying together,’’ Vaughn said.
That identity will be easier to identify when — or if — the Nets ever get healthy.
The return of Nic Claxton on Sunday against the Wizards proved to be vital, as the Nets needed a fourth-quarter comeback to squeak out the win in Brooklyn.
Claxton, in his first game since suffering a sprained ankle in the Nets’ season-opening loss to Cleveland, returned in fine form, with 10 points, 13 rebounds and four blocked shots.
Two of those blocks came in the fourth quarter — including one on a Kyle Kuzma layup attempt which would have cut the Nets’ lead to one point with 55 seconds remaining.
It was those defensive stops that helped Claxton prove to himself that he was healthy again and reminded his teammates why they consider him to be a front-runner for Defensive Player of the Year.
And after getting torched on the boards in their loss to Boston in the previous game on Friday — their last without Claxton before his return Sunday — the Nets dominated on the glass versus Washington.
They face Orlando on Tuesday at Barclays Center, looking to get back over .500 as they enter a stretch that should tell them where they stand in the Eastern Conference.
Their next nine games will come against teams with playoff aspirations — with the possible exception of Charlotte, which is just 3-6.
After surviving without Claxton, as well as Cam Johnson, for much of the early part of the schedule, the Nets continue to be shorthanded with Ben Simmons having missed three straight games with a left hip contusion (he’s day-to-day) and top-scorer Cam Thomas also out with a sprained left ankle which won’t be reevaluated for at least a week.
Despite the injury problems, Mikal Bridges — who scored a game-high 27 points and provided most of the Nets’ offense both early and late on Sunday — said the team has higher goals than hovering around .500.
“We’re 5-5, so [there] should be room for improvement,’’ Bridges said. “We could be way better. I think offensively, we’ve just got to be more detailed. All the players, we’ve just got to … figure out [sets] that we can run.”
Part of that is taking advantage of having Claxton back on the floor.
He struggled against Cleveland, in part due to the ankle injury he sustained during the game.
Without the 6-foot-11 fifth-year center, the Nets lacked size both on offense and defense.
“Obviously, not having [Claxton], it was goofy with having just having five guards out there,” Bridges said of the lineup the Nets were sometimes forced to use while Claxton was sidelined. “But finding more opportunities to score, more sets that can help us, and just figuring out what we’re doing defensively, with everybody being on the same page and knowing what works and what doesn’t.’’
Vaughn agreed that the ceiling is higher than what they’ve shown so far.
“The team is growing,” Vaughn said. “So I challenged them: The next 10 games, let’s be better than these first 10.”