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Through tough losses and string of injuries, Nets search for their identity

The Nets appear to be in a funk as injuries nag on and players try to create chemistry in their wake.

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

The Nets are 2-6 against .500 teams. They have been missed arguably their best player — Ben Simmons — and arguably their best scorer — Cam Thomas with no date set for their return. Their big off-season signing, Cam Johnson, is struggling after missing the whole preseason and seven early season games.

They are also missing an identity, as Sunday’s game vs. the Sixers showed. They were supposed to be a defensive juggernaut. They aren’t, now ranking 22nd in the NBA. Offensively, after a strong start, they rank 13th. Mikal Bridges is still putting up strong numbers in most categories, even he wonders about team chemistry.

“We just got to be together on everything, because against good teams, if you’re not, they’re just gonna break you apart,” he said post-game Sunday.

“We’re just not there yet,” Bridges added. “There’s nothing wrong with that just because we haven’t been there that long. But we’ve just got to figure it out.”

Figuring it out is going to take some good health, which the Nets don’t have. In addition to CJ’s seven missed games, Simmons has also missed seven, Thomas five, Nic Claxton eight. Dennis Smith Jr. has missed two and there’s no word yet if he will miss more, starting with Wednesday’s game vs the Atlanta Hawks in Atlanta. The Nets’ opening night starting lineup has played only one game together.

But beyond that, the Nets seem in a funk, their game breaking down at crucial moments, suffering 15-0 and 14-0 runs by opponents the past two losses.

The Nets are still only one game below .500 at 6-7 with plenty of games to go and they have a number of positives as well. Lonnie Walker IV is a legitimate — if not the leading — candidate for Sixth Man of the Year. Dorian Finney-Smith is among league leaders on 3-point shooting. Trendon Watford has looked good on occasion although his minutes vary. Walker is 24, Watford 23, good signs for a rebuilding team.

Claxton thinks that the ship could be righted with a “statement” win.

“Going up against the top teams in the league, it’s obviously a good test for you, and that’s going to be our challenge,” Claxton said. “Also taking care of business against other teams, but going into these matchups like this, we definitely need that statement win.”

As for the injuries, Claxton and Bridges said those who are healthy need to step up.

“It definitely hurts missing those guys, but we have to just hold down the fort when they’re gone,” Claxton said.

“We’d like to have our team, but … I think we’ve got good enough players where we can go out there and win,” Bridges added. “We’ve just got to be on the same page.”

We should have a better idea on Simmons and Thomas health later Tuesday, but as for the team’s identity, that may take a while longer.