The downward spiral for the Brooklyn Nets continues to spin now in the home stretch of the regular season. With 17 regular season games left on the schedule, the team is one game under .500 (32-33) and has dropped 17 of their last 20 games.
Two months ago, the Nets were sitting near the top of the Eastern Conference standings. The defeat Sunday afternoon puts them one game under .500 for the first time since October 27 when the team had only played five games (2-3). More importantly, Brooklyn drops down to the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference standings and is tied with the Atlanta Hawks, who are the 10th seed. Not much farther down the standings are the 11-seeded Washington Wizards, who are only two games behind. Moving up the standings, Nets trail the six-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers by 5.5 games. The six seed is the final guaranteed playoff spot.
Brooklyn and its fans will pinpoint several issues that led to their extended slide but that’s not the road Kevin Durant wants to go down. Durant, who became the seventh-fastest player to reach the 25,000-point club in his 37-point effort Sunday, remains confident if concerned. He believes the group can turn things around with only 17 games on the schedule.
“Concerned and worried, those words, it’s easy to do that. It’s easy to be concerned, it’s easy to be worried, it’s easy to be pissed off and mad. It’s easy to do that. We can point fingers and blame our season on other things, but let’s just go play,” Durant said. “We got another game. We got 17 more and let’s see what happens at the end of them. We just take it a day at a time, man. A day at a time, and I’m confident in this group.”
Their latest loss came to the Boston Celtics in TD Garden. Brooklyn was doing its best to weather Jayson Tatum’s 54-point offensive explosion. The contest was knotted up at 111 with 3:14 left and it was evident the Celtics prized in continuity was the difference-maker in the final three minutes of play.
“I think the fourth quarter. They executed down the stretch. We talked about it with the group. We look like a brand new team that has never played together before as a group. They look like a team that knew exactly what they were doing,” said Steve Nash after the 126-120 defeat at TD Garden Sunday afternoon. “That’s the gap for our group is to find that cohesion, that understanding, and be able to execute in those situations. To me, that was the difference.”
The words continuity and chemistry have been tossed around all season but Brooklyn has had little opportunity to turn those words into a formula for success, its woes stemming from superstars down to the role players being shuffled about and replaced. Kyrie Irving and Durant played in only their fourth game together this season on Sunday. The game also marked only the 20th time the two shared the hardwood in Nets uniforms.
When Irving was asked how the Nets can build cohesion and continuity in the final 17 games of the regular season, he took accountability for being one of the main reasons the roster hasn’t been able to build that important contender ingredient due to his part-time status. He also knows he needs to show up, even more, to help get the winning back in the record column.
“Man, I wish I had an answer for that. I think we’ve all accepted that it’s been a funky year. There’s been a lot going on in and out of the lineup. I think we have one of the most changing lineups in the league, other than the Lakers,” said Irving on patching the lack of continuity. “It just shows you when you don’t have that consistency or guys in the lineup, it takes a big hindrance on everything. I take my accountability on that as well.
“Now we just have 17 games left and we make the best of it. We’re not in this do-or-die mode but we just know in order for us to be in a position for contention, we got to do the little things in order to win every single night and I’m going to have to show up even more so.”
Either direction you go looking on Brooklyn’s roster, the familiarity factor doesn’t pop out. Ben Simmons, who’s going to be a very key piece, is still ways away from making his Nets debut. The hope is he can begin participating in full team activities towards the end of this week. The loss to Boston was the first time Seth Curry, Andre Drummond, and Goran Dragic played with both Irving and Durant.
“Of course, we want to win all these games but the most important thing I think is to improve here if we stay in the play-in and we’re improving, that’s all that really matters,” Nash said. “We can’t complain about our play. This is where we are. We’ve had no time together and we’re trying to put a team together without one of our All-Star players [Simmons], who’s not here. It takes time. We can’t cheat that.”
There aren’t a lot of things going in the Nets’ favor but the biggest of them all is patience ... lots of patience. The Nets head coach knows you can’t cheat or take shortcuts when forging common history or cohesion between teammates. Nash understands tidbits of cohesion can be formed behind the scenes in film sessions and walkthroughs, but the main way to establish the strong ingredient for a contending team is in games.
“Its film sessions, it’s walkthroughs, and it’s playing games. You can’t cheat experience. You can’t cheat common experience. Our guys got to know what spots they’re in and what positions they’re in. We had plenty of lineups out there tonight (Sunday afternoon) that never played a basketball game together before,” Nash said. “You can feel that when the game got tight. There was a little bit of not doubt in our performance, but on the sharpness of our execution. That takes time. That takes reps, and we can do all we can in the film sessions or walkthroughs but largely it’s going to happen in the games.”
“Right now, we’re basically a new team,” added Bruce Brown who’s now savoring a bigger role with DeAndre’ Bembry and Jevon Carter gone. “We’re getting everybody back. That was the first game in a while that Kai and KD were on the floor together. We’re just trying to figure it out and obviously, this is not the best time to do that. but we got to. We got to figure it out.”
Brooklyn’s second game of the three-game road trip will be played against the Hornets Tuesday night in Charlotte. The Nets dropped their first meeting with the Hornets back in October and a loss on Tuesday would give the season series to Charlotte which can play a factor in seeding if the two teams remain with identical records when the regular season concludes. The two teams will play their final game on March 27 in Brooklyn.
“We know what we gotta do. We know what situation we in. We want to win every game. We’re going to come out there (Charlotte) and try to win that game,” Durant said. “It’s a sense of urgency but we not putting pressure on us every time we’re around each other.”
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