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Nets come up short against Hornets in Kyrie Irving’s home debut, 119-110; fall into ninth seed

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NBA: Kyrie Irving returns home as Nets after removal of mandate Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

This was supposed to be a night of celebration.

At long last, Kyrie Irving was able to make his home debut after being disbarred from participating in any of Brooklyn’s home games due to the indoor venue, then the private-sector mandate. The Nets themselves were about as healthy as they had been all season, with just Ben Simmons and Joe Harris missing the game due to injury.

This should’ve been the big night. A statement victory in front of a record 18,166-person attendance. A sign of the times to come.

Until it wasn’t.

Brooklyn entered the night as the 8-seed at 39-35, leading the ninth-seeded Hornets by a game in standings. Talk about a must-win — an opportunity to build a two-game advantage over a fellow play-in tournament rival with just a handful of games left in the season.

To put it bluntly, the Nets fell flat on their faces. On the second half of a back-to-back after the blowout win in Miami, Brooklyn showcased fatigue and tired, dead legs. And now, the Brooklyn Nets, once the odds-on favorites to win it all sit in ninth place,

“You can look at our long-range shots and say it might’ve been our legs, but I’m not going to give that excuse,” said Kevin Durant. “We just didn’t make them and they came out with a lot of intensity in that third, made shots. We’ve gotta give them credit for knocking them down. But I think we miss shots that we usually make.”

The Nets are among the worst teams in the NBA in back-to-backs. Sundays loss were their tenth straight on the back end of a two-game set. As John Schuhmann of NBA.com wrote prior to the game, the Nets have the greatest discrepancy in the NBA between games when they are rested (37-25) vs. when they are not (2-11).

Irving noted that he didn’t get to bed till 6:00 a.m. following the flight from Miami, the Nets charter having gotten back to New York two hours earlier. Also, it was his first back-to-back since the first two days of February when the Nets played vs. Phoenix and Sacramento. He had a bad shooting game in that back-to-back as well, hitting only 5-of-15 vs. the Kings.

“Not the result we wanted, I didn’t shoot as well as I wanted,” Irving said. “Basically none of the things I had hoped for going well tonight just didn’t happen, and that’s just the flow of basketball.”

After the loss, Brooklyn fell to 39-36 on the season, but more importantly, slipped down to the 9-seed in the Eastern Conference with Charlotte holding the tie-breaker. They’re only a game and a half — one in the loss column — ahead of 10th place Atlanta. If they finish in ninth, they’d have to win two games, one at home, one on the road to make the post-season at all.

“We know where we are in the standings. And we also know how much talent we have in this locker room and what we’re capable of doing,” said Kyrie Irving. “So though this may look like a loss that could have easily been a win column for us, we’ll just take our bumps and bruises and move forward.”

Kevin Durant had an off-night relative to his standards, going just 9-of-24 from the field for 27 points. His co-star, Kyrie Irving, had an even tougher outing, missing 16 of his 22 shots for 16 points on 27 percent shooting in his home debut.

“The ball’s not going to go in every night. I don’t know how much he felt that or not. It’s just not always gonna happen for you. It’s not always gonna go in,” coach Steve Nash said of Irving. “We’ve got to find a way as a team to be better than the other team.”

Irving was not alone. The Nets shot just 20.6 percent from deep, missing open look after open look.

The Charlotte Hornets, meanwhile, couldn’t miss from deep. As a team, the young squad shot a sizzling 53.1 percent from distance on 32 threes. Hornets star LaMelo Ball had himself an All-Star performance, dropping 31 points on seven made threes in the grills of Brooklyn’s defenders. Miles Bridges pitched in 24 points of his own, and PJ Washington (18 points) and Terry Rozier (14 points) each finished with double figures as Hornets’ starters accounted for 73 percent of Charlotte’s total points.

“They made threes and they went to zone and we couldn’t make threes. They shot 40% on the night,” said Kevin Durant. “7-for-34 from three, they 17-for-32, that’s just a big difference and I think that was the game, for real.”

Charlotte Hornets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

On Kyrie Irving’s night, it was... wait... Andre Drummond who started things off strong for the Brooklyn Nets? Huh? That’s right, the 28-year-old big man filled things up early for Brooklyn, recording five points, three rebounds, a steal, and a block, breaking up numerous Charlotte Hornet lob attempts when LaMelo Ball attempted to create easy buckets. Irving, meanwhile, was quiet in the first quarter, going 0-of-4 from the field with 0 points and one turnover. His Nets surged even in spite of his slow start, building a 32-26 advantage in the first period of play.

Ball, after starting slow, began to heat up in the second quarter, putting up 12 points in 12 minutes of play. With Andre Drummond in drop coverage, LaMelo was able to get to his floater and hit high-arcing shots over the backtracking defense. At the 10:15 mark in the second, Kyrie Irving was finally able to get on the board, splitting a pair of free throws for his first point at home of the 2021-22 season ... and since June 7 vs. the Bucks in the second round of the playoffs. He followed that up with a 3-pointer just a minute later that danced around the rim before falling through the twine, giving him a chance to exhale and the crowd a chance to cheer. Thanks to a 17-9 run, the Hornets were able to make up some ground toward the end of the second quarter, with the Nets leading 60-56 at halftime.

The Hornets continued their surge into the third quarter as Ball clipped three straight 3-pointers in two minutes. Ball’s hot shooting continued throughout the quarter as he pilled on two additional three balls with Net arms in his face. Brooklyn, meanwhile, couldn’t buy a bucket from deep, finishing the third quarter 6-of-28 from distance overall. That said, Durant was determined to see his squad stay afloat, hitting numerous pull-up threes to put his points total at 23 through three quarters and his Nets down by just four to close the period, 93-89.

The Hornets continued to push in the fourth quarter as Isaiah Thomas chipped in seven points in 12 minutes, including a gorgeous up-and-under finish around the outstretched arms of Kyrie Irving. Speaking of Irving, the newly 30-year-old finally broke from his slumber, scoring eight straight points late in the fourth. Unfortunately, Cody Martin punched back with some buckets of his own; first, a one-legged running three-pointer and then a corner trey-ball after a tip-out rebound. Those makes proved to be Brooklyn’s demise, as the Nets fell short by nine points in a crucial game.

“I think for us, we just felt like we didn’t make shots tonight, but you have to find other ways to win the game. And tonight you can look at a number of things — details, physicality, coverages, knowing plays. We didn’t come out of timeouts, little slippage there,” said Steve Nash. “When we’re not making shots, we got to find a way to win games in different ways, and I think that’s where we let ourselves down a little bit tonight.”

Play-in prospects

If things stand as is, Nets would have to win two games just to make playoffs: the first vs. the Hawks at home, then the loser of Hornets-Cavs 7/8 game. They now have a one-game lead over the 10th seed Hawks in the loss column. Nets face Hawks Saturday in Atlanta, what’s become a critical game. (If Raptors now in sixth, fall into seventh and beat the eighth seed, game would be in Toronto so no Kyrie.)

Moreover, the Nets would have no time off before traveling to face the No. 1 seed no matter who it is. The play-in tournament ends April 15, the playoffs begin the next day.

Should they not make the playoffs at all, the Nets unprotected first round pick, sent to Houston in the original James Harden deal, would become a lottery pick. There would also be weeping and gnashing of teeth, finger-pointing and demands to clean house from the Heights to Canarsie.

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Kevin Durant officially solidified himself as the 21st-best scorer ever after nailing a driving layup at the end of the first half on Monday. His 25,281st point placed him ahead of Reggie Miller on the all-time list, and he’s now just 315 points shy of passing Alex English for spot #20. Durant has also taken the fewest amount of shots to get to 20,000 points making for immaculate efficiency.

He also passed Hall of Famer Rick Barry on the combined NBA-ABA list. Barry finished his career in the two leagues with 24,279 as did Miller in the NBA.

“It’s cool to be amongst the grades like I always say and just got to keep pushing,” said Durant. “Efficiency is a huge part of my game and I try to make every shot that I take or take good shots. So that’s just been my game.”

Kessler conundrum

Kessler Edwards comported himself well again Sunday night, scoring six points and grabbing a board in three minutes. He was 2-of-2, one of them a three.

Edwards has now played in 41 games, 21 of them starts, Chances of him playing in the post-season, meaning play-in or playoffs, are slim to none. Since he’s a two-way and two-ways can’t play in the post-season, he’d need to be signed to a standard deal by 3:00 p.m. April 11. To do that, the Nets would have to waive a player. Highly, highly unlikely. So, he’ll be done on April 10, end of the regular season.

Interestingly, the Nets would have had to automatically sign Edwards to a standard deal if he played in 50 games. With seven games left, the most he can play would be 48.

As Sponge Bob might say...

What’s next

NBA: Charlotte Hornets at Brooklyn Nets Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The Nets stay home in Brooklyn, hosting the Detroit Pistons on Tuesday, March 29, at 7:30 PM. Coverage begins on the YES Network. For a different perspective on tonight’s game, head to our sister site At the Hive for alternate coverage.