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Kyrie Irving’s 28 points not enough as Nets fall to Blazers, 128-109

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Portland Trail Blazers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets fought with what they had but what they had wasn’t enough.

Without Kevin Durant and only nine players out of 17 active, the Nets fell short against the Trail Blazers, 128-109, missing out on a season-sweep and falling to 43-21 on the season.

“I just don’t think we were sharp tonight. It’s going to happen in the course of the season,” said head coach Steve Nash. “Offensively, we were a little bit stagnant and didn’t play with that pace I think is necessary. And defensively, we didn’t take of some of the details of our scheme. It’s going to happen, it’s a matter of what we take from it. That’s a good team playing well with healthy bodies. We just weren’t ourselves today.”

After trailing 13 entering the fourth quarter, Brooklyn cut the deficit to eight points in the opening minutes but went cold while the Blazers capitalized, hitting the deep ball while using their size advantage.

“It does make it difficult to cover someone when they are pulling up from the center circle. You can weather a few of those. It’s the other ones,” Steve Nash said on Portland’s three-point shooting. “It’s the other ones where there’s a breakdown in coverage or fall asleep, those are the ones that kill you.”

There was plenty of those as Portland finished the win shooting 16-of-36 from three with half of them coming from Damian Lillard, who paved the way for Portland. He finishing with 32 points on 12-of-22 from the field and 8-of-13 from deep but it was Jusuf Nurkic that caused a “big” headache. Nurkic finished with a stellar interior performance, 23 points and 11 rebounds in 25 minutes of play.

“I don’t think he beat us on his own. It’s because we were trapping Lillard and we didn’t do a good job scrambling,” Nash said on Nurkic. “He didn’t really post up tonight but it was more offensive rebounds, us being late on rotations so, I don’t know if that was a byproduct of him being a bruiser and going down to beat us up. We just weren’t clean with our schemes and clean with our rotations. He got too many opportunities on the glass when we were late rotating.”

Down 18 with 3:26 remaining, Nash cleared the bench and the Blazers went on to secure a 19-point victory.

Although the Nets were shorthanded, Kyrie Irving — the lone member of the “Big Three” on the court once again — played well. Irving, who hadn’t shot the ball well heading into Friday’s contest, shot 12-of-26 from the floor and 2-of-8 from deep. He had a team-high 28 points. The Nets superstar only attempted two free throws in the loss.

Jeff Green continued to serve as an X-factor for the shorthanded Nets, finishing with 16 points, six rebounds and an assist in 30 minutes of play. Joe Harris followed, scoring 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field and 2-of-3 from deep. Harris hit his 200th three of the season in the defeat, becoming one of three Nets to reach that mark in team history.

Mike James, whose 10-day contract expires Sunday, provided a good boost off the bench with 15 points on 6-of-15 shooting from the floor. He also handed out three assists. It was not such a great outing for Alize Johnson who grabbed 12 boards and scored four points but had his hands full with Carmelo Anthony (who won some cheers from the Barclays Center crowd.)

With the win, Portland continues their fight to stay out of the play-in tournament and improves to 35-28 on the season. They’re currently in seventh and still in the play-in tournament but only a half-game behind Dallas.

The Nets had their 3-ball working early, hitting three of their first four deep balls, while the Blazers struggled, going 0-of-4 from behind the arc to open the contest. Portland didn’t shoot well from range throughout the first quarter, going 2-of-11 but utilized their size advantage to counter.

The Blazers attacked the Nets small-ball lineup and focused their offense in the paint - scoring 14 of their 23 first frame points down low behind Nurkic, who had 11 points in eight minutes after one. It was just the latest example of traditional big men giving the Nets problems.

Although both squads struggled offensively, Brooklyn led Portland 25-23 after one behind the balanced scoring of Irving, who had a team-high seven points on 3-of-10 shooting from the field and Griffin, who went 2-of-5 from the floor, hitting a three in the opening minutes. The Nets entered the second shooting 34.8 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from deep.

Both teams’ offense began to heat up in the second. The Nets couldn’t find a steady rhythm early Portland remained away from the arc to spark their offense, hitting a series of contested elbow jumpers from Anthony to take a 38-37 lead with 6:41 remaining in the second. The Blazers continued to roll, growing a 9-2 run, and then a three-point shootout to conclude the first half.

Despite the cold star and lack of facilitating - dishing 10 assists - Brooklyn trailed Portland 59-57 at the break.

Green led the Nets with 15 points on 5-of-6 from the field and 3-of-3 from behind the arc. Griffin and Irving had 11 points each at the break, combining for nine of Brooklyn’s 22 made shots. Two of Irving’s 11 came off some usual wizardry around the rim.

For Portland, Nurkic was slowed down a bit in the second, scoring only five points in the frame, but had a total of 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the floor at the break. Anthony had a productive quarter for the Blazers, ending the first two frames with 13 points in 12 minutes while Damian Lillard remained quiet with 10 points on 4-of-9 shooting overall and 2-of-4 from deep - a category Portland was shooting 31.6 percent as a team at the break - but was efficient from the floor, 23-of-46 (50 percent) highly due to their interior presence, scoring 24 points in the paint.

Irving heated up in the third, dropping 13 in the frame on 5-of-7 shooting from the field and 1-of-3 from deep but the defensive stops collectively couldn’t follow. From one point guard heating up to another, Lillard scored 16 points in the third quarter but it was Nurkic who helped clean up around the basket and utilizing his size against the shorter Nets without Jordan on the floor.

Ironically, Terry Stotts called a timeout with 2:31 remaining holding momentum while nursing an eight-point lead until Lillard started hitting his trademark logo shots and Dame Time was underway. Lillard hit back-to-back threes from the logo, one from 32 feet, the other 34, to help balloon Portland’s lead to 94-81 to enter the final 12 minutes of play.

Portland’s 13-point margin entering the fourth added a nice cushion. The Nets ended up cutting the deficit to eight with 9:18 remaining off a drop-off Johnson feed to Jordan for the slam.

But that was all she wrote. Portland forged a 7-2 run to build their lead back up to 13 points midway through the final frame and didn’t look back. Down 18 with 3:26 remaining, Nash cleared the bench and the Blazers went on to secure a 19-point victory.

Steve Nash expects a full house for Nets six-game road trip

The Nets will be hitting the road for a six-game skid, beginning in Milwaukee and facing them twice.

When asked about who is traveling and who is remaining behind, Nash said he expects everyone will make the trip but the decisions are still to be made.

“I’m not exactly sure. Some of those decisions will be made in between now and taking off, but I believe everyone is coming,” Nash said. “Even the guys that are out and rehabbing or in the stay-ready group, they’ll all be coming and we’ll keep building.”

Outside of Durant, who rested in Thursday’s loss, Brooklyn is expecting to have Bruce Brown back healthy Sunday against the Bucks. Kyrie Irving wants the Nets to try to win while expressing the importance behind it.

“I think this road trip means a little bit more. It’s towards the end of the season and we just want to play well.”

Pacers JaKarr Sampson in concussion protocols after collision with Blake Griffin

JaKarr Sampson is in concussion protocol, a league source told the Indianapolis Star Friday. The blow he took to the head from Blake Griffin in Thursday night’s game vs. Brooklyn was severe and he wasn’t clear-headed even after the game ended. After the collision, Sampson hit the floor and had to be helped off the court.

In case you missed it, here’s the video. Griffin hit Sampson with his elbow.

Griffin was assessed a flagrant foul on the play.

As Sponge Bob might say...

Per Will Hanley.

What’s next

The Nets will be back in action on Sunday, May 2 when the team travels to Milwaukee to face the Milwaukee Bucks. The game is scheduled to tip at 3:30 PM ET.

For a different perspective, check out Blazer’s Edge - our sister site covering the Portland Trail Blazers.