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Nets try to break losing streak vs Nuggets

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NBA: Denver Nuggets at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Adversity is here. The Nets went to Dallas and found themselves wanting as the Mavericks overcame a 45-point performance by Kyrie Irving to beat the Nets, 113-109. It was the Nets fourth straight loss, their worst such steak of the season. Both Irving and Kevin Durant, who have experience getting to the top of the NBA mountain, said the Nets should embrace the pain ... and overcome it ... starting Saturday night.

Problem is that they’ll be facing one of the toughest teams in the NBA in the Denver Nuggets on their home court. Although they lost Friday night to their big rivals, the Jazz, 127-120, in Utah, they’re 7-3 in their last 10 and only a game out of the third seed now held by the Clippers. Oh yeah, the Jazz were led by our old friend, Bojan Bogdanovic, who had 48 points, a career high, shooting 16-of-23 overall and 8-of-11 from deep.

Where to follow the game

YES Network for locals, NBA TV for the outsiders. WFAN on radio. Tip at 10:00 p.m. EDT. Take a nap.

We’ll be hosting a late night edition of NetsDaily Clubhouse post-game.

Injuries

For the Nets, James Harden (hamstring), Spencer Dinwiddie (torn ACL), and Chris Chiozza (hand fracture) are out. Everyone else is available.

For the Nuggets, the list is long: Jamal Murrary (torn ACL, out for the season); Will Barton (hamstring); P.J. Dozier (groin); Monte Morris (hamstring) and Zeke Nnaji (ankle) are all out.

The game

The Nets won the first one back in January with Kevin Durant dominating. It was the night before the James Harden trade.

Is this a must-win? The fans think so, of course, following four losses ... and the realization that the team is increasingly likely to fall into the third seed for the playoffs. With only five games to go, the Nets are three games behind the streaking 76ers (seven straight wins) and tied with the streaking Bucks (five straight), but Milwaukee holds the tie-breaker if the two teams finish with the same record. For the record, the Sixers play the lowly Pistons Saturday night in Philly. The Bucks are off till Monday night when they face the Spurs on the road.

But what about the players? How do they feel? They’re obviously not pleased with their performance, but to a man, they appear to take the long view. Get James Harden healthy, keep everyone else ready to go ... and learn from the pain. Better to deal with adversity now than in the playoffs.

“It’s all a learning experience. I’m glad it’s happening to us now instead of in a couple of weeks. Hopefully, we build off this and keep growing. I hope we feel this pain from losing and feeling like we are where we don’t want to be,” said Durant after Thursday’s defeat. “ I like this position for us and I think it’s going to make us better as we continue to keep watch film, going through practice, going through shootaround and playing the game.”

That said, they’ll to be improve in a lot of areas if they expect to beat the Nuggets, starting with getting KD back on track. He was 1-of-10 in the second half of Brooklyn’s loss to Dallas ... following two lackluster late games against Milwaukee.

That’s the lest of Steve Nash’s worries.

“He’s a Hall of Famer. He’s incredible at what he does,” Nash said after Thursday night’s loss. “Everyone has off nights. He rarely has off shooting nights. I have nothing to say to him. He’s going to be Kevin Durant, he’s going to make buckets, he’s going to cause problems for the defense, and [Thursday] was just one of those nights.”

Then, there’s 3-point shooting from their wings. Over the four-game losing streak, Landry Shamet is 7-of-23 (30.3 percent). Joe Harris is 9-of-22 but had two stinkers against the Mavs and Bucks. (Jeff Green, on the other hand, is on a hot streak, 8-of 15).

But the big issue, again, is likely to be defending skilled big men. It’s been a season long issue and the Nets will be facing Nikola Jokic, as skilled a big man as there is, at least west of Philadelphia. The odds-on favorite to win the MVP will destroy any team that doesn’t respect him. Ask the Knicks who gave up 24 first quarter points to him three nights ago.

In their first game vs. Denver back in January, the Nets still have Jarrett Allen to go against Jokic and he did a solid job (with Bruce Brown helping out). Jokic still finished with 23 points on 8-of-17 shooting, 11 assists, eight rebounds and seven steals. DeAndre Jordan didn’t play in that contest, but he’s likely to start vs. The Joker this time. Nic Claxton also wasn’t available for that first game. Steve Nash has been easing him back into the rotation after missing two weeks to health and safety protocols. He played 19 minutes vs. the Mavs after five in the second Milwaukee loss.

And who will guard Michael Porter Jr. The Nuggets 6’10” power forward has become a rising star in the NBA. He’s averaging 19.1 points and 7.5 rebounds while shooting 54/44/79. Against the Jazz, he had 31 points, his third 30-point outing in the last two weeks.

The Nets will also have to deal with long-time nemesis Aaron Gordon who joined the Nuggets at the deadline. He’s tailed off after a strong start in Denver, averaging a little more than five points a game and shooting a miserable 9-of-27 in the last four. However, you now that when he sees the black-and-white, a light turns on.

Player to watch: Nikola Jokic

Is there a more impressive player in the NBA this season. Not only is he putting up monster numbers — 26.4 points, 10.9 rebounds, 8.5 assists — he’s played in every one of the Nuggets 67 games. NO other MVP candidate comes close.

As Ricky O’Donnell of SB Nation wrote this week...

Jokic is the MVP because he’s been the best player in the NBA during the regular season. It’s as easy as that...

Jokic has grown into a great scorer, but it is of course not the best part of his game. This is the best passing big man of all-time, and perhaps one of the best pure passers in league history. His 40.3 percent assist rate is No. 6 in the league, and he’s been passing teammates open — not just passing to open teammates — all season. His impact as a passer has helped unlock teammates Michael Porter Jr. and Aaron Gordon in particular since the latter arrived from Orlando at the trade deadline.

Jokic is blowing away the competition in just about every all-in-one stat that measures a player’s impact. He’s first in Estimated Plus-Minus, first in overall RAPTOR, and first in Box Plus-Minus, win shares per 48, and VORP. Jokic grades out as a slight positive defensively in most metrics while being a massive positive on offense. Basically every reputable metric shows that Jokic has been the league’s best player during the regular season.

Yes, it is as easy as that.

But there’s more to the argument should you care to look deeper. When Jokic is on the floor, the Nuggets outscore opponents by nearly eight points per 100 possessions, O’Donnell notes. When he’s off the floor, they get outscored slightly per 100.

Let’s leave there. If the Nets don’t solve Nikola Jokic, they will return home with a five-game losing streak.

From the Vault

The last time the Nets of New York won a title, it was 45 years ago this week, the 1976 ABA championship. The Nets defeated the Nuggets in Game 6 with Julius Irving dominating. Here’s the whole game, ending with the red, white and blue celebration at Nassau Coliseum and brought to you by Home Box Office Sports.

As Dr. J said post-game, “It’s as sweet as it ever was, I’ll tell you. Now, hopefully, we started something and we can win some more championships, but we’re going to enjoy this one right now. Have a little champagne.”

More reading: Denver Stiffs