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‘Gassed’ Nets fall short to depleted Trail Blazers, 114-108

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Brooklyn Nets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

After flying from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the Nets suffered their first road loss since December 8 on Monday, losing to the Trail Blazers, 114-108 in Portland. With the defeat, Brooklyn falls to 25-14 on the season and 14-4 on the road. The loss was Brooklyn’s fifth in the last seven games and ended a five game road winning streak.

“The guys were gassed tonight. I thought there were some good stretches but overall, I just thought we didn't have the juice to follow through to finish the job enough,” said Steve Nash after the loss. “I don’t think anyone has ever had a six-hour flight in between games so I get it. I understand.”

Kevin Durant, however, wasn’t making — or hearing — any excuses. In his post-game commentary, he offered this assessment of the Nets travel woes and tight schedule.

“Who cares? That’s what championship teams go through - a little adversity...everybody’s schedule is f—ked up,” he said.

The Nets also might have suffered a couple of other losses in Portland: Kyrie Irving tweaked his ankle in a fall in the fourth quarter. While the 29-year-old returned, Steve Nash said he wasn’t sure about Irving’s situation going forward. Nic Claxton also had to leave the game with hamstring tightness. When Irving was asked about his ankle, he said he’s alright and made it clear he’ll play in Chicago against the Bulls Wednesday night.

“I’ll be available for Chicago,” said Irving. The Bulls game would be his third since the Nets decided to let him play part-time.

The Blazers entered the game heavily depleted. Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, Norman Powell and Larry Nance Jr. were all out with injuries or in COVID health and safety protocols. But with Anfernee Simons continuing his stellar play in their absence, the Blazers sensed an opportunity and whether the Nets were “gassed” or not, they Nets let up late.

After a momentum-filled third for the Trail Blazers, Portland continued to hang around while Brooklyn once again couldn’t slam the door shut and couldn’t get the win. With 1:34 left n he fourth, the Trail Blazers grew their lead to a game-high nine points and practically dared the Nets to come back. They couldn’t.

Out of the timeout, Kevin Durant slammed home a Statue of Liberty dunk and after a defensive stop, rookie Day’Ron Sharpe tipped in a basket to cut the deficit to five with 46.0 seconds left. Portland ran down the clock and Ben McLemore hit a right-wing three off a hand-off for what would be the dagger. Cam Thomas then drilled a left corner three to provide some life, but Portland hit their free throws and came up with the defensive stop in the final seconds.

“I was proud of our guys wanting to try to win. Wanting to try to come out here and tough it out, but it felt evident to me that they didn’t have the pop or the juice to get stops,” said Nash.

Durant concluded the loss with a double-double of 28 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in another high-minute game — a game-high 42 minutes of play. Irving finished with 22 points, eight rebounds and four assists in 40 minutes.

When asked about Durant’s consistent high-minute play, the Nets head coach made it clear the team will find him a game to rest. Nash added that the rest game will not occur against Chicago on Wednesday. The Nets play the Thunder and Pelicans at the end of the week at home.

“We’ll find him a game. We’ll find him a game to miss somewhere here coming up,” said Nash on resting Durant. “We always know it’s hard to limit his minutes; one from a competitive standpoint. It’s hard to limit his minutes because he wants to play, especially in games like this where we had a chance to win. We got to find games where he can sit him out and rest him.”

Durant gave his thoughts on the high minutes conundrum, saying he is ready to do whatever the team asks of him.

“It is what it is. If I gotta play 40, so what? Imma play. But if they tell me to sit out, I’m gonna do the same thing, said Durant. “No, I’m not concerned but whenever coach wants to give me a day, I’ll support it but I’m not looking for one. I’m just going to play until they tell me that I’m sitting out. That’s not on my mind while I’m playing.”

The game also provided Nash and his staff another look at Brooklyn’s youth corps. The team’s four rookies finished with 42 points in 78 minutes, highlighted by the play of Day’Ron Sharpe and Cam Thomas. The rookie big man had a standout performance with 14 points, seven rebounds, two assists and three blocks in 24 minutes off the bench. Thomas, fresh from his game-winner vs. the Spurs, recorded 21 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field and 4-of-7 from three in 26 minutes. Both Thomas and Sharpe finished with career highs. Kessler Edwards and David Duke Jr. combined for 10 points with both showing flashes of strong defensive play.

“Lot of good things. Lots of growth. I think they make errors that are correctable and need to make in order to grow. It was great,” said Nash on the rookies’ play in the defeat. “A lot of positive things from all the rookies and we just want to keep developing them and keep giving them opportunities to see if they can grow.”

The Nets started Irving, Durant, Duke Jr., Claxton and DeAndre’ Bembry but Brooklyn quickly picked up five team fouls in the opening five minutes of play. That became a problem throughout the quarter and throughout the contest. More importantly, Claxton struggled to defend Josef Nurkic in the post, picking up three of those early fouls, going to the bench at the 7:33 mark of the first. Despite the early foul trouble, Brooklyn trailed by four points (14-10) early.

“It’s a tough ask for Nic. Nurkic is a big body and it’s a lot for Nic, but the fouls didn’t help,” said Nash on Claxton’s early foul trouble. “When Nic had three but just in general, we put them at the line a lot early in the game.”

Brooklyn weathered a small 7-0 run from Portland and got an instant spark from Thomas, who created his own shots and scored six points in the frame. Irving and Durant combined for 15 points after one, but that was also the number of points the Trail Blazers tallied at the line in the first and so Portland led Brooklyn 33-26 after one.

“We didn’t start that sharp and they made 15 free throws in the first, and they end up making 19. That didn’t help giving up 33 points in the first,” said Nash. “I think that’s part of it too, trying to get your legs back under you, find a rhythm and they were gone by the end of the game,” “Our shots were short and they were making shots.”

The Nets rookies carried some heavy weight in the start of the second quarter to help Brooklyn forge a 7-0 run to take a 42-41 lead. Sharpe (eight points, six rebounds, one assist and a block in 12 minutes) provided Brooklyn with some big minutes with Claxton in foul trouble. The rookie big was active on both ends of the floor and made a big impact on the boards and fended well against Nurkic in the post.

Led by Durant, the Nets were able to grow a seven-point lead (the biggest lead for Brooklyn in the first half) to hit the break with a 62-55 lead. Although foul trouble lingered, the Nets’ superstar duo of Durant (20) and Irving (14) combined for 34 points and the bench contributed a total of 23 points. Brooklyn outscored Portland 36-22 in the frame.

Brooklyn Nets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images

Similar to Sunday’s game — and a common theme throughout the season — Brooklyn struggled to build on their lead in the third.

The Nets were able to crack the Trail Blazers defense and take advantage of defensive miscues to maintain their seven-point lead, but couldn’t build momentum. Portland continued to hang around and struck midway through the third. A three-ball off a rotation miscue by Ben McLemore knotted up the contest at 74 with 3:47 left.

Although badly depleted by COVID and injuries, the Blazers had the momentum and concluded the third frame on a 10-2 run, shooting 8-of-15 from 3-point range in the quarter. Brooklyn trailed Portland, 87-81 going into the fourth.

In the end, the Blazers were inspired by their own kiddie corps. Anfernee Simons once again led the Blazers with 23 points, followed by Robert Covington with 21 and McLemore with 20

Brooklyn faced a big injury scare midway through the fourth when Irving and Nassir Little chased down a loose ball. Irving got his left ankle caught under the sliding Little. The guard gingerly walked to the bench after taking a minute on the floor but remained in the contest.

“It’s just one of those bad plays. I tried to get out of the way but it was unnecessary for him to dive that far away to the ball,” said Irving on Little’s sliding attempt for the loose ball. “I was just trying to get out of the way. Just unnecessary play and I asked the ref, ‘you just got to protect our players out there.’ It’s totally unnecessary. I get Nassir wants to go for the ball, but it’s just a bad play. It’s all good.”

Little responded with a tweet on Tuesday morning, saying he’d do it again and “doesn’t give a f**k” about the criticism...

In the end, the Nets ran out of gas and Portland remained hot, handing Brooklyn their first road loss since Dec. 8, winning by six points.

The Film Room

Steve Nash gave the rookies — Kessler Edwards, Day’Ron Sharpe, Cam Thomas, and David Duke Jr. — extended run in the second half of Brooklyn’s matinee nailbiter against San Antonio. That trend continued the very next night against Portland, and a few of them impressed.

Cam Thomas flexed his muscles after his very first NBA game-winner in San Antonio, knocking down stepback threes, driving to the rim at will, and launching the best pass of his young NBA career, a skip pass to Kessler Edwards in the corner. Speaking of Kess, he continues to look like the most NBA-ready rook on the roster.

But maybe most impressive of all was rookie center Day’Ron Sharpe, who checked in after Nicolas Claxton picked up 3 quick fouls. The matchup against Portland was perfect for Sharpe. He could focus on his comfort zone on defense; using that broad 265-pound body to dislodge bruisers, like Jusuf Nurkic, on the block.

On offense, the dude swallowed up rebounds like a Dyson V8 vacuum. Sharpe’s just got that innate sense of where to be to establish prime positioning, and he isn’t afraid to mix it up physically.

Couple that with his impressive ability to consistently scan the floor and you end up with plays like this near-impossible throw to James Johnson while falling out of bounds after grabbing a rebound.

Sharpe gave the Nets a little extra with his thunderous block against Dennis Smith Jr. and more than help his own on switches against Anfernee Simons in the second half. He also presented some serious pick-and-roll craft, slipping at opportune moments and rescreening if his original screen failed to make contact.

“Just playing my game. Play hard, fight for position for rebounds, play good defense,” said Sharpe about his keys to success. “My mind says win, it’s the first thing on my mind. So as long as I’m playing out there getting these wins, I’m good.”

There’s something here with Day’Ron Sharpe. He’s raw, sure, and fouls too much. But still, the 20-year-old has NBA-ready skills.

Chauncey Billups offers rare praise for Kyrie Irving

Blazers coach Chauncey Billups called Kyrie Irving “the most skilled player” ever to play the point in NBA history.

“Kyrie is just, he’s a wizard, man,” Billups said pre-game. “He’s must-see TV. I personally think, as somebody that played the position, I think Kyrie’s the most skilled player that’s ever played that position. Just straight skill. Nothing else. Just straight skill. I think he’s the best that I’ve ever seen at the position, skill-wise. So, obviously, he gives you a ton when he’s playing.”

Billups response came when he was asked about just the Nets with Irving and without.

Milestone Watch

Not much going on here.

Kevin Durant extended his streak of 20-point games to 19 (he’s tallied 20+ points in 33 of 34 games played this season). This is now the second-longest streak of 20-point games in Nets NBA history, trailing Vince Carter’s 23-game streak in 2005-06 season.

And a belated note about Cam Thomas game-winner vs. the Spurs. It was the first time since December 2000 that a rookie sealed a win with a shot in the last five seconds of a game. Kenyon Martin (Sr.) did it back then.

Steve Nash provides updates on LaMarcus Aldridge and Joe Harris

Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

Prior to Monday night’s game against the Trail Blazers, Steve Nash provided updates on LaMarcus Aldridge and Joe Harris.

Steve Nash said Aldridge, who missed Monday night’s game with right foot soreness will likely not travel with the team to Chicago Wednesday. Brooklyn doesn’t return back to the Barclays Center till Thursday night when the team hosts the Thunder (the second game of a back-to-back).

The Nets head coach doesn’t believe Harris is back on the court yet in his rehab. A report from ESPN noted the Nets’ sharpshooter is closer to a return, Nash added he didn’t read the report.

“I don’t think he’s on the court yet,” said Nash on Harris’ rehab. “I don’t know that. I didn’t read the report so I’m not sure what the context was but I don’t think so.”

As Sponge Bob might say

What’s next

Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

The Nets will return to play on Wednesday night when the team travels to Chicago to face the Bulls on Wednesday, Jan. 12. The game is slated to tip at 10:00 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Monday night’s game, check out Blazer’s Edge — our sister site covering the Trail Blazers.