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Brooklyn Nets find new way to lose, this time to Portland Trail Blazers, 105-103

The Nets are running out of ways to create the most painful losses, whether against good teams or bad. It’s getting stale.

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

The Brooklyn Nets entered Wednesday with one win in 2024, sandwiched between losses that have ranged from infuriating to depressing, occasionally both. Their opponent on Wednesday, the Portland Trail Blazers, also entered action with just one victory in the new year. It was, of course, over the Nets.

The rematch was, let’s say, cozy. Attendance at the Moda Center was sparse thanks to brutal conditions in Portland, and it didn’t just affect the fans — DeAndre Ayton was all set to return from an 11-game injury absence but couldn’t traverse the icy conditions to get to the arena.

Perhaps Ayton got off easy. It was the type of game best served as background noise while falling asleep on the couch, particularly for Nets fans with reasonable bedtimes back on the East Coast. It wasn’t poorly played, a considerable step up from Brooklyn’s recent contests, just a bit bland.

Neither the Nets nor Blazers were able to build anything greater than a four-point lead in the first half, though there were positive signs for Brooklyn. Mikal Bridges led all scorers early with 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting, a wonderful sight for the wing who had shot at least 50% from the floor in only one of his last eight contests.

Lonnie Walker IV wasn’t too far behind, scoring all of his 13 points before the break. Six days after his 20-point performance in Paris, his first half in Portland was the second glimpse of the bench dynamo he was before a left hamstring strain knocked him out of commission. Walker may not have done much in the second half — Vaughn clarified he was on a minutes restriction — but he and Bridges led Brooklyn to a slim 52-51 halftime lead.

“It was good that they were able to produce shots for each other,” said Vaughn of the small lineup, with Walker replacing Nic Claxton, that closed the second quarter. “Unfortunately, we were up one at halftime. So even though we did some good things, it’s a one-point game and halftime.”

For Portland, Jerami Grant and burgeoning Nets-killer Duop Reath started strong. Grant got busy from the mid-range as a pure bucket-getter, eventually finishing with a 30-piece. Reath cooled off after halftime, burdened by foul trouble that disrupted his Dirk Nowitzki impression:

Behind those two, the Blazers took a seven-point lead early in the third quarter, and the Nets looked powerless to stop the potentially game-deciding run. Then, Spencer Dinwiddie finally stepped up. Over his last three games, Brooklyn’s starting point guard had taken just 15 total shots, forget the paltry averages of three points and three assists a night. Excuse the speculation, but Dinwiddie has seemingly been checked out for the past month.

Yet, he came alive in Portland, right when the Nets needed him most. After a scoreless first half scored ten points in the third quarter, hitting catch-and-shoot threes but driving to the basket with purpose, at long last. Thanks to his efforts, Brooklyn finished the period on a 14-2 run, taking an 83-74 lead into the final frame.

The Nets’ largest cushion of the game quickly disappeared, as their bench unit that was strong in the first half failed to get buckets in the fourth quarter. Cam Thomas scored just eight points on 2-of-7 shooting in 22 minutes, though he did dish four assists to one turnover. Trendon Watford hit two 3-pointers in the first quarter, but didn’t get a second stint of playing time. Dennis Smith Jr.’s lack of shooting killed Brooklyn’s offense, as his energy and defense weren’t able to make up for his most glaring flaw. He finished as a team-worst -14 on the night.

The starters weren’t much better on offense. Nic Claxton posted another double-double, but shot just 4-of-10 from the charity stripe, points that Brooklyn sorely needed. Cam Johnson was again efficient, shooting 6-of-9 to score 13 points and five assists, but the volume wasn’t there. And Bridges finished with just 21 points after his strong first half, perhaps hampered by a collision with Jabari Walker in the third:

“I’ll be alright,” was all Bridges had to say about it after the game, per Evan Barnes of Newsday.

Still, Dinwiddie nearly saved the day. He played with fire in the fourth, hitting a huge triple and getting to the line, where he hit two free-throws to put Brooklyn up 101-97 with just under two minutes to go. His 19 points and seven assists comprised his best performance in some time, nearly all of it coming in the second half.

“I thought overall, his ability to get downhill,” said Vaughn. “I thought he was seeing the floor very well tonight, spraying the basketball, getting us organized. But he has the ability to get downhill and get to the rim, draw fouls which he was able to tonight. It was good to see him aggressive and in the flow and playing to his capabilities.”

But Dinwiddie’s efforts merely set the scene for Brooklyn’s latest collapse. They’d held down Anfernee Simons all night, but the young guard came alive down the stretch, as he did in their first meeting. He hit a tough baseline pull-up over Bridges to tie it, then the Nets were forced to double team him on the next possession, leading to an easy put-back for Grant.

Down a possession with ten seconds left, Cam Johnson momentarily gave fans hope with a strong layup to tie the score:

That only set up the latest heartbreak. On the game’s deciding possession, Simons drove right, then crossed back middle, evading the help defense that came a hair too late. The result? A feathery floater that dropped through the net with 0.2 seconds left like an anvil on Brooklyn’s chest:

Said Vaughn of Simons’ final bucket: “We were going to double Grant or Simons. Give him credit, good move to get to the rim and finish,

Of course, it wasn’t one play that lost Brooklyn the game. It never is, not when the victor is the 10-29 Blazers.

Portland, in sweeping the season series, dominated the interior. The Nets have gone back to switching 1-through-5 as their base defense, and it’s turned them into the team we thought we’d see in preseason. Decent defensively, but can’t get a board, nor run in transition. The Blazers got 10 offensive boards, and outscored Brooklyn 50-to-40 in points in the paint.

But I won’t bore you with any more specifics. The Brooklyn Nets lost. Again. If you stayed up late to watch that game, I commend you; it surely wasn’t easy. And, if you watched all 48 minutes of another lifeless contest, a loss to one of the league’s worst teams, though the Nets have now certainly joined that rank, and are now reading this game recap to re-live the experience, you deserve an applause.

Or maybe some help. Probably both.

Final Score: Portland Trail Blazers 105, Brooklyn Nets 103

Milestone Watch

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night nor ice nor that loss stays the milestone watch from its appointed rounds.

  • Spencer Dinwiddie’s 19-point second half was the highest-scoring half of his season.
  • Nic Claxton’s 12 points and 12 boards were good for his team-high 14th-double double of the season. It also marked his career-high sixth straight game with double-digit boards, the longest streak for a Net since Andre Drummond in ‘21-22.

Draft Watch

The 2024 Draft is viewed as mediocre at best BUT there is always talent at or near the top. So Houston Rocket fans are thrilled with the Nets decline because they own the Nets pick, unprotected, this June.

Currently, the pick is No. 8 overall with a six percent chance of getting the top pick.

Next Up

Dallas Mavericks v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

May LeBron have mercy on our souls. The Nets continue their West Coast swing with their first of two games in Los Angeles, this one against the Lakers. Tip-off is scheduled for 10:30 p.m. ET on Friday night.