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Power Rankings: Despite losses, Nets consensus No. 2

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Brooklyn Nets v Boston Celtics Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

The Nets are 2-2 after two straight losses to previously winless teams. So what? They have Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving! That seems to be the consensus opinion of the NBA pundits who put together weekly power rankings. Of the nine, eight have the Nets just behind the Lakers while on has them behind the two L.A. teams.

John Schuhmann - (2)

NBA offense can look easy in the hands of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Brooklyn’s two stars are off to a scorching start, averaging a combined 56 points per game on an effective field goal percentage of 69%. When the Nets trailed by three at the half on Friday, they just needed to get the ball to Durant, who outscored the Celtics, 12-9, in the first 5 1/2 minutes of the third quarter. The Nets have scored 124.6 points per 100 possessions in the pair’s 95 minutes on the floor.RRo

The Nets have depth beyond the stars, and Steve Nash has felt comfortable enough with his second unit (led by Caris LeVert) that he hasn’t staggered the minutes of Irving and Durant one bit. They’ve checked out and in together in all three games and the only reason Irving (95:03) has played 22 more seconds than Durant (94:41) is that he was at the free-throw line when they were set to check out in the first quarter on Tuesday.

But in 40 minutes with LeVert on the floor without Irving and Durant, the Nets have scored just 72 points on 88 offensive possessions (81.8 per 100). Those struggles didn’t matter much in the first two games, but in a two-point loss in Charlotte on Sunday, the 11:39 that Irving and Durant sat were the difference, as the Nets scored a paltry 14 points on 25 offensive possessions (shooting 2-for-16 from 3-point range and attempting just six 2-pointers) and were outscored by nine points.

Now, just three games into the season, that depth has taken a major hit, with Spencer Dinwiddie likely lost for the season with a knee injury. The Nets can still go 10 deep, but without Dinwiddie’s off-the-dribble juice, the margin for error and ability to keep Irving and Durant rested isn’t what it was just two days ago. Their longest homestand of the first-half schedule (six games over 11 days) begins Monday, but it begins with the second game of a back-to-back. So it’s possible that Irving and/or Durant sit all 48 against the Grizzlies.

Royce Young - ESPN (2)

The Nets ended it with a distasteful loss to the Hornets, but the opening week of the season provided a significant win. The Nets looked fantastic in their first two games, blowing out the Warriors and taking over in the second half against the Celtics. But more than that, in all three games, Kevin Durant showed no signs of struggle in returning from his Achilles tendon injury. And his partnership with Kyrie Irving took off running, with the duo playing off each other and in good rhythm. The loss to the Hornets did bring to light the concern some have with the Nets, though: a lack of a consistent third scorer.

Michael Shapiro - Sports Illustrated (2)

Amid the media drama and ex-teammate bickering, many seemed to forget a simple truth about Kyrie Irving entering 2020–21. The Nets’ point guard is one of the most talented scorers of his generation, matched by few in league history in his creativity and shot making. Irving tallied 17 first-quarter points on opening night, then dropped 37 points against the Celtics on Christmas. If Irving and Kevin Durant stay healthy, they could enter the spring as Finals favorites in a crowded Eastern Conference.

Kevin O’Connor - The Ringer (3)

Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant are posting bonkers scoring numbers, but their defense has also been noteworthy. They’re fighting on the ball and flying around off the ball, displaying the type of effort they’d normally save for the playoffs—especially Irving...

Irving hasn’t taken many plays off for the Nets, even when he’s defending an unproven player. That’s huge for team chemistry. When you have star players giving this level of effort, it makes buy-in easier for everyone else on the roster.

“It was maybe the first thing that struck me from the first practice: his talent defensively,” Steve Nash said about Irving last week. “This is a league that’s starting to just pick on little guys but he battles, and he’s smart. As we come together as a team, I think our defense will be more cohesive as well.” The Nets seem to be all in on their roles and responsibilities, with Spencer Dinwiddie taking a backseat to Kyrie and KD, Caris LeVert accepting a sixth man role, and Jarrett Allen coming off the bench. Much of this comes from the example set by the best players. So far, Brooklyn isn’t much of a circus; it’s just dominant.

Zach Harper - The Athletic (2)

Week 1 overreaction: They’re the best contender in the East. While the loss to Charlotte really wasn’t defensible, I love what I saw from the Brooklyn Nets in the first week of the season. They have a lot to work on, and I still have no clue why DeAndre Jordan is starting over Jarrett Allen. Allen is so much better than Jordan at this point in their careers, but that’s for Steve Nash to work out with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Even with the loss to Charlotte, they look sharper than Milwaukee, Boston, Miami and Philadelphia so far. Long way to go, but a great start for the Nets.

I might be setting myself up for failure for believing in this team already, but Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving look great so far.

Colin Ward-Henninger - CBS Sports (2)

The Nets looked unbeatable in their first two games of the season, winning by a combined margin of 44 points, but they lost the top spot in the Power Rankings with a loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday. You probably shouldn’t read too much into it, though, and the good news for the Nets is that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving look incredible, averaging 27 and 29 points, respectively, over the first three games. With a deep roster and elite talent at the top, the Nets look like true title contenders. Now they just need to stay healthy.

Mo Dakhil - Bleacher Report (3)

Right off the bat, the Nets have looked like the best team in the East. Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving have been dominant in their games so far. They beat up on Durant’s old team, the Golden State Warriors, to start the season, and then they crushed Irving’s old team on Christmas Day in Boston.

Then they ran into the not-so-mighty Charlotte Hornets, who pulled off the upset. Where the first two games highlighted all their positive features, this one showed what it looks like when they are not clicking.

They struggled defensively containing drive-and-kicks from Gordon Hayward, Terry Rozier and Devonte’ Graham. They got crushed in the paint 64-26.

The Nets offense devolved as the game went on, going away from good ball movement to pick-and-roll after pick-and-roll. This team is still a work in progress as Durant and Irving are continuing to learn how to play with each other. Caris LeVert and Joe Harris are trying to pick up their role in the offense.

Losing the game was not the only problem for Brooklyn. Spencer Dinwiddie had to leave the game with a sprained knee, which turned out to be a partially torn ACL that will force him to miss the season. It’s a big loss for the Nets as this was another weapon who creates for himself and others. Already, coach Steve Nash will have to adjust his rotation as he tries to make up for the absence of Dinwiddie.

That’s a tough way to end what was shaping up to be a good start to the season.

Brad Rowland - Daily Dime (2)

Wait, another 2-2 team? Well, the Lakers still have a +10.7 net rating so far and the Nets…. have a +10.6 net rating. Also, Brooklyn’s second loss came without both Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant, with thoroughly dominant play in a couple of contests. It will be interesting to see what happens without Spencer Dinwiddie, but Brooklyn still impressed early.

Corey Rausch - Hoops Habit (2)

If this is what the healthy version of the Brooklyn Nets are going to look like, the rest of the NBA needs to be hoping for a change back to last season’s injury luck. Anyone who worried about the fit given the ball dominance of their star players has to be feeling silly after two impressive blowouts.

Doing that to the Golden State Warriors is one thing given their defensive woes. The Boston Celtics are another animal and the Nets made them look nearly pedestrian. Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant combined for 66 points on 37 shots against Boston, but it was the ball movement that is making everything click. The ball whirls around the key before the best shot is taken, oftentimes from the aforementioned All-NBAers. Caris LeVert looks tailor-made for the sixth man role. If this continues, it will be tough to keep them out of the top spot for long.

And yes, we stopped doing power rankings last season. Why? Because there wasn’t much new every week and it’s labor intensive, aka too much work for too little edification. But of course, if the Nets are in top five — or top two! — why not?