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Now for some consistency! Nets realize they have to win against the great and small

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Los Angeles Clippers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Whenever the spotlight is shining on the Nets, they’ve been at their best. They are 6-0 on nationally televised games, ones where they’re paired with other top teams. Overall, they have wins against the Sixers, Bucks, Celtics, Jazz and Clippers, all like them contenders. But they’ve also lost twice to the Cavaliers and Wizards as well as to the Thunder and Hornets, all subpar teams. Sure, some of those losses took place before the James Harden trade or when Kevin Durant was out because of health and safety protocols or when Kyrie Irving missed two weeks due to personal reasons.

Now, though, there’s no excuse. The Nets have established themselves as a legitimate championship possibility. They’re 8-3 since the Harden trade, including one game before the Houston superstar arrived in Brooklyn, and they just beat the team with the best record in the NBA in front of a huge national audience.

So it’s time for consistency. The players, particularly the “Big Three,” understand that and have said so, putting the onus on them going forward. KD has even tweeted about it after that brutal loss to the Wizards,...

As has been noted on these pages, Harden believes it’s about a “mindset” that says, we are who we are ... and we’re about to show you.

“It’s about the buildup for us. We’re using this season obviously to get better. Obviously we want to win every single game, but you know we’re using this season to get to know each other, to grow as a team, to build chemistry and to get on the same page,” Harden said. “Obviously, some games are going to be better than others, but I think overall that same mindset that we had [Tuesday] we have to have that same mindset every single game, no matter who we’re playing.

“That’s when you’re going to see some growth out of all of this.”

Irving admits the team has spoken about how they can play down to their opponent, which is a killer for teams who want to play in the NBA’’s “last game.”

“We talked as a team about collectively coming together against teams that may not have the record that shows it and we’re playing to their level or we’re not playing to exceed the effort that’s needed,” said Irving. “So we just want to continue to make consistent habits of just playing the right way every single game.”

In short, he said, it’s about finishing the game, something they didn’t do vs. the Wizards, losing after being up by five with 10 seconds left. It was a historic failure. ESPN reported post game that In the last 25 seasons, teams are 9-23,498 when trailing by 5+ in the final 10 seconds of the game.

“As a team, we’ve just got to match each other’s efforts and exceed the other team’s,” said Irving. “I feel like teams make so many shots against us. So many ‘magical things’ happen against us, and I know we’re not the only team in the league that feels that, but it seems like over the last week, there’s been some crazy comebacks and crazy things that have been happening, so we’ve just got to get used to it and finish the games.

“That’s the big thing. That’s the phrase: ‘Finish the games.’ We’re up by 10, we’re up by eight, we’re up five with a minute to go. Finish the game.”

Indeed, there was even a little of that against the Clippers. After going up by 10 late, they had to survive a nail-biter, but survive they did. Durant said that the Clippers game was how he envisioned he and his two superstar teammates could perform at the optimum.

“Yep, yep. I mean, you’ve got guys who can do multiple things on the floor late in the game,” said Durant.

“Any coach in America wants the ball in their best players’ hands, and I think we’ve got three guys that are unselfish, that know how to play and I think we made the right plays down the stretch, especially Kyrie and James controlling the ball. I feel like, when those guys got it out top, they have the defense at their mercy.”

Indeed. On Tuesday night, KD scored 28 on 13 shots, Ky had a season-high 39 including a string of clutch shots in the fourth and James had his fourth triple-double in nine games. Each was extraordinary in its own right. Combined, it was remarkable, a thing of basketball beauty.

After the game, the words “unstoppable” and “unguardable” were tossed around with only a modicum of exaggeration. When the firm of Durant, Harden and Irving is performing at the highest level, there’s little an opponent can do but try to outscore them, which has happened. But if they embrace consistency on both ends of the court, as Harden said, opponents are in for “scary hours.”