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3 Takeaways from Brooklyn Nets loss to Dallas Mavericks in Kyrie Irving return

Kyrie returns to divided Barclays Center and a diminished Nets roster.

Minnesota Timberwolves v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

Nobody throws a half-hearted “welcome back” party better than the Brooklyn Nets. As odd of a get-together as that is, they’ve got experience orchestrating them, having conducted the same lukewarm charade less than a week ago with Kevin Durant back in town.

But tonight, it was Kyrie Irving’s turn to sign jerseys with his name on the back but in the opposition team’s colors. His turn to see the occasional fan sprout up and flash him the heart symbol, only to get scolded by an usher right after. His turn to hear cheers later get drowned out by boos.

For most professional athletes, requesting a trade after failing to deliver only results in the latter. However, things are different here in Brooklyn. With the Nets so deprived of winning basketball, there’s a bit of waning loyalty in the building for the two (or three) guys who got them closest to it. The Nets are that sad individual still heartbroken after a break-up because they’ve yet to find anyone new who can do for them what that lost love did. (All the makings of an Adele song if you ask me!)

Regardless, Brooklyn and Dallas danced the night away this evening. Irving and new best friend Luka Doncic managed to keep the Nets at arms distance all night long, but Brooklyn battled to apply pressure at a few singular points during the second half. Here’s what we learned.

Jalen Wilson is Still Brooklyn’s Most NBA-Ready Rook

With Brooklyn’s lacking size, recent trouble on the glass, and the news of call-ups from Long Island hitting our phones this afternoon, all signs pointed to a first real NBA run for Noah Clowney.

Jacque Vaughn sure fans with one, subbing him in around the first quarter’s seven minute mark to serve as Brooklyn’s initial throw-in attempt to back up the five. After lurking in the dunker spot, he converted an early look via an alley-oop feed from Dennis Smith Jr to get on the scoreboard. But not long after, he then sank back into the bench never to return.

The rookie who did step up and even play the majority of the game’s second half was Jalen Wilson. Adding 10 points, four rebounds, and two assists while shooting 3-of-7 from the field and 2-of-3 from deep, it wasn’t a “break out” showing by any means for the former Jayhawk, but more so a reminder of what we saw from him in the preseason and before that in Summer League.

Wilson was again active as a defender illustrating his ability to play Brooklyn’s switch — surely a plus in eyes of the Brooklyn coaching staff. There were no signs of rookie nerves either even with this being a nationally televised game. One of his two triples came during Brooklyn’s first lunge at the lead, splashing one with around eight minutes to play and cutting Dallas’ lead to single digits. Much to fans’ delight, it came not long after Wilson poked a steal off Irving at the other end.

“I thought he had a great pace about him, whether it was going out to a rebound, whether it was shooting an open three, whether it was trying to defend with physicality. He checked all those boxes,” Vaughn said postgame. “He has worked his entire life to get to this position being counted out, four year guy that has really paid his dues and continues to pay his dues so it’s good to bring the disciplined minutes tonight.”

When you consider Wilson’s four years older than Clowney and Dariq Whitehead, who’s out for the season, the idea that he’s more of a pro than his fellow 2023 draftees isn’t a surprise. Brought up to be a 3-and-D wing player, his style of play — that easily pluggable sub — helps his case with his NBA team. And remember, he was pressed into service with the Nets missing Cam Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV. He had played 36 minutes — scoring 17 points and grabbing 16 boards — for Long Island the night before!

All of this represent encouraging signs. The Nets are likely to move on from wings Royce O’Neale and possibly Dorian Finney-Smith if not in a few days than this summer. Their reserve minutes should fall right into Wilson’s lap and tonight argued he’s ready for them.

Some of the Worst Half Court Offense

All night long, but primarily in the first half, Brooklyn couldn’t buy a bucket. In the half court however, it was like they couldn’t even get approved for a loan on one.

Earlier this year, Brooklyn’s offensive stalwart was their inability to get downhill, largely as a result of Spencer Dinwiddie’s “fall off.” With their bevy of wings, you knew they had the guns to rain fire over their opponents from all across the floor, but didn’t have anyone to load the ammo.

Tonight, we saw the opposite, as with only five true floor spacers in Dinwiddie, Bridges, O’Neale, Thomas, and the rookie Wilson available, Brooklyn rarely found good looks even with Dennis Smith Jr. and Cam Thomas doing an admirable job breaking down defenses at the point of attack. For all his benefits, Ben Simmons returning to the fold at the expense of Cam Johnson and Lonnie Walker IV did not help either.

As Spencer Dinwiddie found some rhythm down the game’s stretch Brooklyn managed to manufacture buckets for a few stretches, not so much a comeback, but rather a comeback attempt to halt fans catching an early train home.

But as Sisyphus would tell you, you only want to push a rock uphill for so long. The ease at which Dallas got their points compared to the chore it became for Brooklyn made stealing a win a near-impossible task. As long as the injuries persist, expect this to continue.

Cam Thomas Showing Patience

For a second straight game Cam Thomas looked a bit off, getting to his spots less frequently as the Nets offense as a whole never really found to find its groove. But amid those struggles, the score-first player went off-script, making an impact as a facilitator.

CT still contributed with 16 points tonight but finished with a career-high eight dimes. Given the team’s lack of shot-makers on the floor, you know he had to work for them too. Despite being known for his bucket-getting capabilities, Thomas has said in the past he’s able to do whatever a team needs of him. Tonight he supplied his best round of evidence to support that.

“He continues to do it through contact, getting downhill for us, and getting to the rim,” Vaughn said of Thomas. “He’ll continue to do it and he’ll get some foul calls along the way as he gets older in this league. But both [Thomas and Bridges] deserve credit for continuing to grow their game within the concepts of of our team.”

“I know that they have the potential to be great players in this league,” said Kyrie Irving of Thomas as well as Claxton postgame. “They just got to be consistent, find that continuity, and be patient.”

Nobody wants to celebrate on a night where you got blown out on your home floor by your ex, but that’s more development from a guy who’s easily Brooklyn’s highest-ceiling prospect. That should at least keep out out of the whiskey cabinet. Thomas also finished with eight rebounds as well to flirt with a triple double.