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Nets road trip will prove their mettle. It won’t be easy

NBA: Brooklyn Nets at Golden State Warriors Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets five-game road trip is filled with all sorts of good news, bad news calculations.

  • Good news: Kyrie Irving can play five straight games. Bad news: he has to play them vs. the Warriors, Suns, Jazz, Kings and Nuggets, all but one of whom think they can contend for a title.
  • Good news: the Nets young players played a solid game vs. the Warriors. Bad news: the vets are being savaged by injury, with Kevin Durant and Joe Harris out indefinitely, James Harden missing two straight games with hamstring and hand issues, and LaMarcus Aldridge leaving the arena Saturday on crutches after an ankle sprain.
  • Good news: they have two full days off to rest their weary bones and ligaments before their next game. Bad news: the next game’s against the best team in the league, Phoenix.

It’s always something.

We now know more about the Nets physical state — Harden questionable, Aldridge out. But what about their emotional state? After four straight losses, it’s always a question.

“To start this road trip off against the Warriors and now on to Phoenix is a great test for us,” said Patty Mills, who who had 24 points in San Francisco on 6-for-12 shooting from 3-point range. “So we’ve just got to understand that for the big picture, we’ve just got to keep chipping away and putting things into the bank fully believing that this is going to pay off for us at the end of the season. And that’s what I believe.”

Irving said something similar, noting this isn’t the first time he or any of his veteran teammates experienced a quartet of losses.

“We need everyone. We need an amazing effort from everyone,” Irving said, more than a bit ironically. “Everyone’s effort has to be at a certain level out there, and if we’re not playing like that, we’re not looking like a team that has that certain identity. When we’re not playing at a high level on both ends of the floor, specifically defensively, we’re not ourselves. So we’ve got to come out there, especially going against these great teams in this league, we’ve got to be the aggressor.”

Irving added that the team has to protect against “fragility” as it comes up against a series of good teams.

One way of battling all that, said the head coach, is looking to improve every day.

“I think it’s our job to make sure these guys recognize it’s about improvement,” Nash said Saturday. “It’s about growth. We’re undermanned, and hopefully we win a bunch of games undermanned, but if we don’t, it’s about growth, it’s about getting better, and it’s about us putting ourselves in a position down the line that’s further ahead, and when we do get reinforcements, we’ll be much better for it.

“We can’t just wait. We have to grow, we have to get better. It’s our job as coaches to keep them pumped up, keep them positive, ask them to continue to do the right thing so we can grow and win or lose, make those steps.”

How is that improvement manifesting itself. Kessler Edwards, for starters. The 44th pick in the 2021 Draft has been the single biggest surprise of the season. He keeps getting bigger and bigger defensive assignments and what his coach calls his “natural defensive instincts” are winning him praise around the league. More than once Saturday night, the ABC Sports crew took note of his D.

As Kristian Winfield noted, he “chased” Stef Curry around the court and did a nice job on the MVP candidate as he had in the past vs. Brandon Ingram of the Pelicans and DeMar DeRozan of the Bulls. As Winfield noted, Edwards was a +1 vs. Golden State while Mills was a -12 and Nic Claxton a -21.

“He just keeps battling, keeps working, keeps growing,” Nash said. “He’s getting all these great experiences guarding top players. He’s got to have some space to make mistakes so he can continue to develop but he does so many things well with his size and athleticism and his discipline. He’s a disciplined player who’s willing to sacrifice for the team.”

Again, that’s the good news. Now, the Nets will have to find a way to get him on the 15-man roster with a standard deal, reward him beyond the two-way deal (that pays him half the league minimum). Like we said, it’s always something.