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LONG GAME: Nets don’t view themselves as elite: ‘I just don’t think we’re in that category yet’

Golden State Warriors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

The Nets suffered a tough and humbling blowout at the hands of the Warriors Tuesday night at Barclays Center before a sellout crowd of 17,732, a lot of whom were rooting for Golden State, complete with “MVP” chants for Steph Curry.

Maybe more importantly, the stinging loss had Brooklyn rethinking where they stand. In short, are they among the “elite” of the NBA.

Golden State is the best team record-wise on the young season (12-2) while Brooklyn has suffered all four of its losses against top conference teams. Overall, Brooklyn is 2-4 against teams’ .500+ and 8-1 against under .500 opponents. To Steve Nash, Tuesday’s humbling makes him think the Nets aren’t in “that category” of being one of the top teams yet.

“Well, I just don’t think we’re in that category yet,” Nash said. “We got a lot of work to do. We’re trying to improve as a group, get better and hopefully, we can find a way to overcome some of our deficiencies by the end of the year.

“It takes time. We started the year with a continuity plan from last year that got thrown out the window obviously when Kyrie [Irving] didn’t come back, so we’re trying to build and figure it out. [It] was a great lesson for us that we got to double-down on some of our principles when the going gets tough.”

Golden State Warriors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Despite suffering all five of their losses to some of the league’s best teams, the Nets (10-5) still sit at second in the Eastern Conference standings behind former Net, Spencer Dinwiddie, and the Wizards. Aside from the superstar duo of Kevin Durant and James Harden, Brooklyn is trying to forge chemistry and continue to learn how each other plays, as well as overcome the loss of Irving, whose production on the hardwood will have to be replaced by committee. From forming a team identity to perfecting the teams’ principles, the Nets are focused on the long game.

“We’re just trying to get better every game. The goal is to be the best team at the end of the season and in the postseason. That’s the goal,” Harden said. “But probably not [there]. We’re probably nowhere near. But it’s a long season for us to get better, and we will continue to get better.”

“We have to find our identity. We’re still a brand new team, so we still have to find out what we’re good at, what we’re great at, what we can be great at, and it’s gonna take a long season,” Harden continued. “But we’re, what, 14, 15 games in? So tonight’s game doesn’t really affect us at all. I don’t think anybody knows themselves well. Maybe the Warriors, because they’ve been together for a long time.”

In short, like many in the organization, Harden isn’t going to be distracted by the “noise,” all that commentary ... the latest being a Stephen A. Smith rant suggesting Harden “James Harden damn near wants out.”

Certainly, the Warriors exposed the Nets’ flaws and proved their team has a well-founded identity built on continuity and experience. Five players on the roster have won a championship in the Bay Area. Most importantly, Golden State locked up one of their former superstars, Kevin Durant (the league’s leading scorer) on Tuesday night.

Golden State Warriors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

The Warriors utilized their size and length to shrink the floor, as well as throwing variations of different looks at Durant — who had his 20+ point streak snapped at 14 games. The Nets superstar finished with only 19 points on a rare non-efficient shooting performance of 6-of-19 from the field and 2-of-6 from three-point range. (It was KD’s third straight 2-of-6 shooting night from deep.)

“It’s a combination. They played great defense. They did a good job. They got long defenders and guys that can help. So, seeing bodies all the time when I had the ball, that’s what great defenses do. There were some shots I wish I could’ve had back. Once we got down 15-20, I was trying to get it back so fast and ended up taking bad shots and rushed shots,” Durant said. “It’s all a part of the journey. It’s all a part of understanding what level we need to be at every possession and it’s a great test for us.”

Brooklyn trailed by only five points at the half — after Andrew Wiggins hit two three’s in 27 seconds — but it all came apart in the third quarter. The Nets were outscored 35-18 in the frame ... and were simply overmatched in effort.

The Nets were pressured into ISO-ball situations due to the Warriors different variations of defenses — box-in-one, switching defense, and triangle-and-2 which resulted in a poor shooting quarter overall (5-of-22). Harden and Durant were double-teamed a total of 25 times. Brooklyn’s largest deficit was 28 and in the end, the fans left the arena looking at an 18-point defeat.

“In the third quarter, they got away from us,” said Durant. “They ran their sets and got layups early, which got them going and slips the rim. They ran their sets pretty hard and defensively, they did a good job of packing the paint and switching up the defense throughout each possession. They might go box-in-one, triangle-and-2 or they might switch everything, so they do a good job.

“I’m sure they practice all that stuff and then applying it to the game. It’s a team that you look at and you take a lot away from that as a team and understand that’s the level you want to get to.”

Has it all forced them to face the hard truth about where they stand? We will find out more tonight’s game vs. the Cavs. Brooklyn will enter tonight’s game against a depleted Cleveland team. As of Tuesday afternoon, it appears that they’re not interested in resting their superstar duo of Durant and Harden, who’ve played all 15 games.

Of course, the Nets will be without Joe Harris (left ankle sprain), Paul Millsap (personal reasons), Nicolas Claxton (non-COVID related illness), David Duke Jr. (G-League, two-way) and of course Irving, who’s given no indication that he’s willing to get vaccinated and return to play. That of course would almost certainly end the debate about whether they’re elite.