Thunderstruck: Nets zapped by Thunder at home, 130-109


Thunderstruck.

In their fourth game in five days, the Nets were defeated by the Thunder, 130-109. With the loss, Brooklyn falls to 26-15 on the season and is back to .500 at home (11-11).

“One part of us is glad to get this week over with. Traveling across the country and playing four in five nights. Timezones and late games. Early games and all that stuff, I felt for our guys a little bit trying to get some juice tonight,” said Steve Nash after the 130-109 loss. “We didn’t play well. That’s definitely part of it and those guys played very well. It was tough. You can just tell it was a tough ask for our guys with all the travel and playing.”

After landing back on the east coast around 5:00 a.m. Thursday morning — and getting to their homes two hours later, the Nets were exhausted at game time. To stack the odds higher, the team was without Kevin Durant and Patty Mills, who both took a needed rest day. And two of their bigs, Nic Claxton (hamstring) and LaMarcus Aldridge (right foot soreness) were out and Kyrie Irving couldn’t even attend the game.

“It feels different when we got everybody there. Like, last night (in Chicago) was just how it’s supposed to be a majority of the time,” said James Harden. “Ideal, we would love to have yesterday’s team every single game. And then like I said last night, see where we can gauge ourselves, see where we can get better, see what we’re not great at, but it’s kind of hard to tell because we got different lineups every game.”

James Harden, who logged a game-high 36 minutes tallied 26 points on 7-of-22 shooting from the field and 3-of-11 from 3-point range. The Nets lone star snagged seven rebounds and dished nine assists as well in the loss.

It was another opportunity for the Nets’ rookies with six rotation players out. Cam Thomas provided a needed scoring punch with 21 points —tying his career-high — in 33 minutes off the bench. David Duke Jr. had a solid outing, recording 15 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field and a perfect 3-of-3 from deep, to go with five boards and an assist in 20 minutes. Kessler Edwards, who started for the Nets tallied nine-point, two rebounds and a block while Day’Ron Sharpe, who also started finished with four points, six rebounds, one assist and a blocked shot in 20 minutes of play.

“It’s great experience for all of our guys to get more and more minutes,” said Nash on the rookies’ contributions over the tough four-game stretch.

“Play Chicago and get back at five in the morning, got a game today. It’s something I ain’t never done before,” said Sharpe on Thursday night’s game. “But I told you, man. They tell me I get to play. I could travel all day if I get to play, so it doesn’t matter to me! And if we win games, obviously.”

Paul Millsap, who hadn’t played since December 27 got some run Thursday night. The veteran provided Brooklyn with strong minutes, scoring eight points while snagging 10 rebounds, dishing one assist and swatting three shots in 19 minutes. Millsap shot 4-of-6 from the field and 0-of-1 from three.

Oklahoma City Thunder v Brooklyn Nets

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets started Harden, Sharpe, Edwards, Bruce Brown and DeAndre’ Bembry for the second game of the latest back-to-back. Brooklyn struggled to close the driving lanes, giving the Thunder an opportunity and a 10-2 run. Powered by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a series of drives to the basket, OKC took an early 15-11 lead at the 6:57 mark of the opening quarter.

Brooklyn was able to cut the deficit to three, but Oklahoma City responded in a big way. The Thunder continued to thrive offensively and gathered a series of defensive stops off Brooklyn’s miscues (two turnovers for five points). While the Nets couldn’t buy a bucket (39.1 percent shooting from the field and 22.2 percent from deep), Oklahoma City, behind the play of Gilgeous-Alexander and Lu Dort (26 points combined) closed the quarter on an 11-2 run to take a 38-26 lead.

Millsap started the second quarter for the Nets and the veteran’s presence on the glass opened up second-chance opportunities for Brooklyn but they struggled to get over the hump. The Thunder continued to drive to the basket, providing little resistance and held a double-digit lead for a majority of the frame.

The chasing and exhausted Nets ended the half giving up 70 points to the lowest-scoring team in the league and hit the break with a 70-51 deficit (the largest halftime lead for the Thunder this season).

Harden was the only Net in double-figures with 16 points on 4-of-12 shooting from the field and 1-of-4 from three-point range, to go with three boards and four minutes. Millsap had a solid second quarter, tallying eight points, six boards and two blocks in 12 minutes. As a team, the Nets scored 32 of their 51 points in the paint but shot only 13.3 percent from downtown (2-of-15).

Oklahoma City Thunder v Brooklyn Nets

Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

It was yet another 30-point quarter for OKC. Despite being down and exhausted, Brooklyn build a rally midway through the third. The Nets forged a small burst from the rookies to trim the deficit to 10 points, but couldn’t string together defensive stops to help their rally. The Thunder, led by the sparkling Gilgeous-Alexander continued to get to the rim with ease and get open looks from deep to answer the Nets’ scoring. Oklahoma City hit the fourth quarter with a 100-83 lead.

“We junked up the game a little bit. We went box-in-one and were able to throw them out of their rhythm a little bit, get out a run and make some plays. Just the willingness though with heavy legs and fatigue to try to play and figure some things out, scrap and create some turnovers, or to force some missed shots. That stretch, I thought was great,” said Nash on the Nets’ late third-quarter run. “It gave us a lift and a boost but we obviously couldn’t close the deficit.”

Brooklyn put Harden back in the game after a lengthy third-quarter rest to start the fourth in hopes of forging a late-game rally. And the Nets did just that, opening the frame on a 13-4 run to cut the deficit to single digits and get the crowd back into the contest. OKC absorbed Brooklyn’s burst and after a Dort right-wing three, the Thunder lead was back up to 15 with six minutes left. Nash and the Nets waived the white flag shortly after, taking Harden out of the game with five minutes left after the Thunder built their lead back to 20 and all hopes of a late-game rally disappearing.

SGA finished with 33 points on 11-of-18 shooting followed by Dort with 27 and Giddey 19.

The Film Room

Brooklyn had maybe its best game of pick-and-roll defense since early November against the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday. After switching most of its pick-and-rolls to start the new year, Brooklyn went back to its trusty drop coverage that ruled the first three weeks of the season and produced a top-10 defense. The Nets were sharp, and the Bulls couldn’t get much of anything from the oldest play in basketball.

Meaning that it only made sense that the Nets fell apart the very next night. Like, completely. While, yes, the Thunder had an outlier shooting night from deep at 44.4%, what really doomed Brooklyn was allowing so many easy ones; Oklahoma City got whatever they wanted out of the pick-and-roll at the Barclays Center.

The Nets tried just about everything to slow down the oh-so-shifty Thunder star, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, but to no avail. Here, DeAndre’ Bembry tries to hedge the pick-and-roll but is late, giving Shai the avenue to split the defense for the advanced finish through contact.

Here, the Nets once again hedge this Thunder pick-and-roll but face a different dilemma. Blake Griffin is on time when “showing,” great! Yet he hangs onto his hedge for a beat (or seven) too long, and Mamadi Diakite waltzes down the open floor for the dunk. It doesn’t help that Cam Thomas, the “low man” responsible for covering for mistakes from the weakside of the floor, fails to rotate over and bottle up the roller.

Even when the Nets chose to trap the shifty SGA, things didn’t go as planned. Below, Gilgeous-Alexander is able to break free from Paul Millsap and Jevon Carter’s blitz to scan the floor, and Cam Thomas completely loses Darius Bazley along with the dunker spot. In fact, Cam’s just completely out of position in the first place. For as good as he was offensively, this was not a sharp defensive game for the rook.

It’s easy to attribute the loss to shooting variance, sure, but Brooklyn doesn’t give itself much breathing room when being this careless with the details.

Milestone Watch

Taking a different tack tonight. Here’s the summary of the Nets still incomplete road warrior test.

—Four games in five days through Thursday. By Saturday, it’ll be five in seven.

—2-2 record

—Two back-to-backs within five games, one with a cross-country trip and another with only 12 hours between arrival at home and game time.

—5,800 miles travel in four days or an average of more than 1,100 a day.

—Three time zones in four days.

—Went from scoring 138 one night to giving up 130 in the next.

—And after Saturday, 22 of the next 30 days on the road.

Yeah, it’s draining.

“it’s been crazy just because of the COVID,” said James Harden. “So instead of having two days in between Chicago, we had to fly all the way out to Portland, then come back to Chicago. Then played tonight shorthanded. It’s just a lot. Today was definitely a little frustrating because we wanted to win and we played so well last night, so we wanted to kind of have some kind of carryover, but it just didn’t happen. We got in pretty, pretty early, I should say 5 in the morning.

“I ain’t even get to bed until 7:30 and then woke up early. So it was just crazy. But we tried, man.”

Day’Ron Sharpe, who’s 13 years younger than Harden, agreed, but for him, there’s a compensating balance.

“It’s definitely something I’ve never done before. We had a game against San Antonio, travel to Portland. six-hour flight, play there. Then play Chicago and get back at 5 in the morning, got a game today,” said Sharpe. “It’s something I ain’t never done before. But I told you, man. They tell me I get to play. I could travel all day if I get to play, so it doesn’t matter to me! And if we win games, obviously.”

One year of James Harden in the books

Thursday was the first anniversary of James Harden joining the Nets in the blockbuster, four-team deal that shook up the NBA. So how’s he doing? Here’s the basic breakdown…

—71 games, all but one a start;

—23.6 points per game, 1.4 below his career average;

—Shooting splits of 45/35/86 with the Nets, again in line with career averages of 44/36/86.

—Much better assist and rebounding numbers in Brooklyn. With the Nets, Harden is averaging 10.4 assists and 7.4 boards, a lot better than his career numbers of 6.7 assists and 5.6 boards.

—As a Net, he’s had 19 triple doubles in 71 games — 12 last year and seven so far this one. That’s an average of one every three and a half games. In his previous roles with OKC and the Rockets, he had 44 in 841 games, one in almost 20 games. Big difference.

So, to paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of his death on the court have been greatly exaggerated.

David Duke Jr. shooting better

Coming out of Providence, David Duke Jr. was known for his defense and 3-point shooting as well as a knack for rebounding, a perfect combination for a swingman. While the defense and rebounding has been evident early on, his 3-point shooting has been, well, woeful. He shot 11.1 percent (not a typo) in Summer League and seemed shy in both preseason (1-of-2 in two games) and G League (2-of-4) in one game. And until this week, he was again shooting 11.1 percent (2-of 18) for the season.

Then, in the last three games, for whatever reason (is that you Kyle Korver?), things have turned around. After shooting 1-of-2 in both the Blazers and Bulls games, he was a perfect 3-of-3 from deep vs. the Thunder. That’s 5-of-6 in three games (83.3 percent for the math-challenged. Admittedly it’s a small sample, but a good, confidence-building run for the 22-year-old who in his last two years at Providence, shot 38.9 and 40.1 percent. If he can keep it up, it’d be a big deal for him and Brooklyn … and further justification for the Nets decision to have signed him as a two-way.

What’s next

LA Clippers v New Orleans Pelicans

Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets will return to play on Saturday when the team hosts the New Orleans Pelicans at Barclays Center. The game is scheduled to tip at 7:30 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective on Thursday night’s game, check out Welcome to Loud City — our sister site covering the Thunder.



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James Harden delivers late to secure Nets fifth straight win, defeating Raptors, 116-103


The Beard delivered when the Nets needed it most.

The Nets defeated the Raptors, 116-103, Sunday afternoon in Toronto. With the win, Brooklyn improves to 7-3 on the young season while snapping a long 10-game losing streak in Canada. The 7-3 start ties the best 10-game start in team history, matching the starts in 2001 and 2002 when the New Jersey Nets got to the NBA Finals.

Heading into the final three minutes of play nursing an 11-0 lead after another dominant third quarter, James Harden did what was needed. The Nets superstar, who is still trying to gain confidence and play like his usual self, scored 16 of his 28 points in the fourth and nailed the 27-foot dagger from deep to seal the deal. He finished with a double-double of 28 points and 10 rebounds to go with eight assists in 39 minutes of play.

“I thought in the first half, he didn’t give himself enough credit. I thought he had opportunities to attack more. I tried to implore him to go and to be aggressive. In the second half, he was excellent,” said Nash on Harden’s play. “This game, the Atlanta game and games he gets to the paint, he can really cause a lot of problems for the defense.”

Kevin Durant extended his streak of 20+ points to 10 games Sunday afternoon. The league’s leading scorer finished with a game-high 31 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in 37 minutes of action. It was his first game back in Toronto since tearing his Achillies in the Game 5 of the 2019 NBA Finals.

“I didn’t think about that. That this is the scene of the catastrophe sort of speak. Like we said since day one, Kevin has been unbelievable this season: both ends of the floor, rebounding, scoring, facilitating,” said Nash on Durant’s play through 10 games. “I think that’s under a team that is trying to find itself so I think we can either make things a little bit easier for him at times. That’ll take time as we keep saying. That doesn’t detract seemingly ever from how elite he is, how efficient he is and how well-rounded he is.”

Brooklyn had a total of six players finish in double figures in the road victory — Durant and Harden plus Blake Griffin (14), Bruce Brown (12), Joe Harris (11) and Mills (13). A huge factor into having six players in double-figures was the ball movement — 29 assists on 41 made shots. The Nets also had five players with three or more 3-pointers, led by Griffin’s four, the most since he joined the Nets last season.

“The defense was really strong. In the first and second, we get some slippage. I think that was down to turnovers. They got out and ran for easy baskets, so the turnovers and offensive rebounds, again were an issue. Offensively, there were pockets of play where we were really happy with,” said Nash. We still have to push to play that way naturally and from start to finish. I thought tonight, we obviously made shots but we were sharp with our intent and our purpose offensively for stretches. That’s what got us through.”

The Nets ran the same starting lineup — Harden, Harris, Durant, Brown and Griffin — for the seventh straight game. Although Brooklyn had difficulty early finding space on the offensive end due to Toronto’s length, the team found a rhythm behind the play of Durant, who scored 12 of the Nets’ 29 points to take a 29-26 lead after one. Griffin snagged six rebounds in the frame.

It was a back-and-forth second quarter, but Brooklyn’s second unit held it down defensively, holding Toronto to only 21 percent shooting from the field through the first six minutes of the second. Still, the Raptors forged a 9-2 run in the span of a minute to grab a six-point lead. Following the run, Durant picked up a technical foul for arguing with the officials over a push in the back call on Chris Boucher. “I didn’t touch him! I didn’t touch him!” KD pleaded.

In the final minute, the Raptors tough defense sent a pair of double teams at Durant in the midrange, resulting in two turnovers. Toronto, in fact, flipped Brooklyn’s nine first-half turnovers into 13 points and as the second quarter buzzer sounded, the home team hit the break nursing a seven-point advantage. The Nets did not play Griffin throughout the second quarter and instead, attempted to go small against the lengthy Raptors.

Durant led the Nets with 16 first-half points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field and 1-of-4 from deep in 19 minutes of play. Harden followed with 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting from the field but went 0-of-5 from three.

Brooklyn Nets v Toronto Raptors

Photo by Mark Blinch/NBAE via Getty Images

Then, when the second half opened, things changed and fast. The third quarter was all Brooklyn. The frame opened with a 9-0 Nets run behind the play of Griffin, Durant and Harden. A two-man maneuver between Harden and Durant that led to a flush from the NBA’s leading scorer served as a big catalyst to the hot start. The ball movement continued to boost the Nets’ offense and helped contribute to Toronto’s defensive confusion. The Raps picked up their fourth team foul with nearly eight minutes remaining in the fourth, allowing Brooklyn to go to the line off fouls for the remainder of the quarter.

Brooklyn’s offense was clicking on all cylinders but it was the defense that helped the Nets build their largest lead (11 points). The team held the Raptors to only five points through the first six minutes of play and a total of 17 points. Although Toronto answers with a quick six-point boost, Brooklyn concluded their dominant third on an 11-2 run to lift their advantage to a game-high 11 points.

Toronto hung around and kept clawing away to cut the deficit to single-digits, but Harden began to feel it late. Despite the Raptors forging a late 7-0 run for more breathing room, Harden scored 16 points in the fourth and nailed the dagger from deep in the 32.5 seconds remaining to seal it.

Fred VanVleet led the Raptors with 21 points in 41 minutes followed by OG Anunoby with 16 points in 38 minutes. With the defeat, Toronto falls to 6-5 on the young season.

The Film Room

James Harden had his best performance of the season. Some might say he looked like himself… Debate a wall.

Much of Harden’s scoring through Brooklyn’s first 9 games had been at the three-point line — 49.7% of his scores came from behind the arc, which would’ve been the highest of his 13-year career. Essentially, Harden was living and dying by the three more than ever, supplementing for what had largely been iffy burst off the dribble.

Yet on Sunday, the three-point shot was not there. Harden finished 3-of-10 from three. And he still finished with 28 points.

How’d he do it? By driving. Just like the James Harden we know.

After a shaky start, Harden found himself a mismatch with Raptors center Chris Boucher at the end of the first half. In previous games, matchups with slower centers or smaller guards had proved to be fruitless. He couldn’t get by either one of Cory Joseph or Kelly Olynyk during Friday’s game against Detroit, for example.

Yet against Boucher, Harden got into his bag and simply put his head down. The help was late just never showed up, and what resulted was the best drive of Harden’s 2021-22 season, bar none.

“When he’s aggressive, then the defensive focus has to shift, said Blake Griffin about Harden’s scoring. “I think he’s done a great balance lately.”

That sound you’re hearing is a thunderous sigh of relief echoing down the wide streets of Flatbush and Atlantic.

The beauty of Harden’s early struggles is that it slowly but surely birthed new counters. He’s toyed with a step-back midrange shot in each of the last three games to counteract when defenses overplay his drives. Lately, he’s been making threes in spot-up situations, which was basically unheard of last year. A pass fake breaks Toronto’s zone defense and Harden cooly breaks the Raptors with a 0-dibble three.

“I thought in the first half, he didn’t give himself enough credit. I thought he had opportunities to attack more. I tried to implore him to go and to be aggressive. In the second half, he was excellent,” said Steve Nash when summarizing Harden’s performance.

Don’t look now, but he’s finding his groove. There’s a chance he’s added a few new layers in the process.

(More) Blue Collar Boys

It’s been a while since the Nets have had a bit as funny as the Blue Collar Boys. Sunday’s game gave us more priceless snippets into what appears to be a jovial locker room.

Blake Griffin provided updates on the application statuses of two potential new members, Kevin Durant and Patty Mills, both of whom have strapped into their working boots and taken some bone-crushing charges in Brooklyn’s last two contests.

Kevin Durant took a particularly nasty charge and after the game, he joked he was “nearly concussed.” It appears Blake Griffin was impressed by Durant’s commitment to the team… though he’s still got a long way to go to get into the exclusive club.

Patty Mills, meanwhile, is officially in. The news we’ve been waiting for.

Clearly overjoyed by the news of his acceptance, Mills joked that he wasn’t sure if the co-presidents of the Blue Collar Boys (Blake Griffin and Joe Harris) had sent the news to the wrong email address.

Inside goofs like this are what make the NBA season all the more enjoyable.

O Canada!

Sunday was Kevin Durant’s first time playing in Toronto since he got hurt in the 2019 Finals, famously tearing his Achilles tendon while attempting to will back his Golden State Warriors from a 3-1 deficit. Durant called it one of his “lowest moments” of his career.

“I had some great memories in Toronto. I love playing in Toronto, the fans have been amazing to me,” said Durant. “The last time I was here was one of my lowest moments as a basketball player, but it’s good to come back here, play, see the fans, and get a W.”

Sunday’s win was the first the Nets have put together in Canada’s largest city since 2015. They had lost 10 straight. It was also the first win in Canada for the team’s two high-profile Canadian citizens, head coach Steve Nash and owner Joe Tsai.

“It means a lot,” said Nash on winning Sunday afternoon as a head coach. “This is a very special place for me. Not obviously Canada but Toronto. I spent so much of my time here. I have so many close friends, relationships and memories in the city. I have a lot of admiration for the Raptors organization and Nick Nurse. To get a win here is really special for me. For me, this is definitely a sweet one.”

It was also the first time the Nets had traveled to Toronto in 638 days. Due to COVID travel restrictions, the Raptors wound up in Florida for the 2020 “bubble” and all of the 2020-21 season.

What’s next

Philadelphia 76ers v Chicago Bulls

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Nets will travel to Chicago to face the Bulls Sunday, Nov. 8 for their second back-to-back of the season. The game is scheduled to tip at 8:00 p.m. ET. and will be televised on YES Network.

“They got three elite level scorers from all areas and one at the big man position. And then you got a point guard in Lonzo who can orchestrate it all. We got our work cut out for us. Another test for us,” said Durant looking ahead to Chicago.

When asked about the availability for Kevin Durant and Blake Griffin for Monday’s matchup against the Bulls, Steve Nash said the team will decide after the Raptors game. Griffin said he expects to play Monday after the victory over the Raptors.

“We’ll see. We haven’t made any decisions. We’ll see how today goes so we’re really just going to focus on this one and then we’ll have a chat about it after the game and see what we do tomorrow,” said Nash prior to Sunday’s game.

For a different perspective on Sunday’s game, check out Raptors HQ — our sister site covering the Raptors.





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Road trip! Nets begin six game trip in Detroit vs. the Pistons


When you leave home, leave in style. The Brooklyn Nets broke out their city edition jerseys x court on an ESPN game against the Atlanta Hawks, and they put on a show. Brooklyn played an excellent game on both sides of the ball and had their best win of the young season to close out the six game homestand. They’ll be on the road for the next two weeks so that was a beautiful way to say goodbye to the hometown crowd.

The opponent to begin this six game adventure will be the Detroit Pistons. Duane Casey’s guys are off to a rough start as they continue their rebuild. They hung in for three quarters last night against the Philadelphia 76ers, but Philly put together a dominant fourth quarter and won by 11 points.

Where to follow the game

YES Network on TV. WFAN on radio. Tip after 7.

Injuries

Nicolas Claxton is still out with a still undisclosed illness. Cam Thomas, Day’ron Sharpe, Kessler Edwards, and David Duke Jr. are on assignment in the G-League so they’ll be in Long Island getting some work in there.

Killian Hayes injured his thumb last night, but he did return to last night’s action.

The game

Brooklyn won the first meeting on Sunday. And just like last Sunday, the Pistons are on night two of a back-to-back against the Nets. At least this time, they didn’t have to travel.

On the halftime broadcast of Wednesday’s game, ESPN’s Michael Wilbon mentioned that he felt James Harden wasn’t playing aggressively enough. Sure his field goal attempts aren’t where it was when he was the main offensive option. He drove to the basket a ton and was deliberate in setting his teammates up to the tune of 11 assists to only three turnovers. We have to be careful to not just look at FGAs to determine if a player is aggressive and assertive. In the post-game, Harden mentioned he’s feeling more and more like himself by the day. That’s a great sign for Brooklyn and danger for the rest of the NBA.

Not everyone is as sanguine as Wilbon, however. Jake Fisher of Bleacher Report writes there are some in the NBA who wonder if Harden is at the beginning of a slide to the status of a “secondary All-Star.”

Harden’s slow start has drawn the attention of skeptical league personnel who wonder whether this is the beginning of the perennial MVP candidate’s decline into more of a secondary All-Star.

Other observers believe Harden’s conditioning is the main factor in his depressed stats. He did flash a bouncier performance in Sunday’s victory over the Pistons, hanging an easy 18-point triple-double on only nine shots, including 4-of-7 from distance. And on Wednesday, he knocked down five of his 11 attempts from deep against the Hawks.

The Nets, it should be noted, do not feel that way. In fact, they feel that Harden, even more so than Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, will retain his superstar status over the long-term mainly because unlike his teammates, he is not so dependent on athleticism. His game is more cerebral.

This will be the first time the Nets get to see Cade Cunningham. The top pick from the 2021 Draft had his season delayed thanks to an ankle injury in camp, but he’s here now and getting to work. The shot isn’t there yet as he’s only shooting 18 percent from the field and 1/21 from downtown, but coach Casey isn’t worrying about it. He got more work running the offense last night and so far, that part of his game has shown up to the party.

On Thursday, Cunningham had his best game so far. Cunningham finished 4-of-17 from the field but had his first double-double with 18 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.

One thing the Nets have to be mindful of is a letdown. They’ve got a tough back-to-back awaiting them after this so they have to make sure they don’t overlook a young team that has gotten off to a cold start. If you let your guard down, you’ll get caught slipping and take an L you otherwise shouldn’t.

Brooklyn feasted from deep on Wednesday night, going 22/48 from deep. The Pistons recently had one of the worst 3-point shooting games in NBA history and are dead last in 3-point percentage, only making 27.2 percent of their shots. If the Pistons are still cold from deep, it will severely limit their chances of pulling off the upset.

In a great story for Sports Illustrated asked Kevin Durant about how he sees the need to balance scoring and passing, and here’s how KD responded:

“The game has slowed down. I kind of know what I want to do out there. For the most part it’s just knowing the game, studying the game for these last 15 years … at a different level, and I’m able to adjust to certain situations. I’ve gotta keep growing, keep learning, keep being a student.”

The man’s a one of one. That means none before him, none to come.

Player to watch: Saddiq Bey

In an alternate universe, Bey would’ve remained a Net and Bruce Brown (and Landry Shamet) would not have come to Brooklyn. As such, the second year player out of Villanova has gotten off to a good start in his pro career. He’s a little bit more involved in the offense this year, but like most of his other teammates, has been cold from the field. We’ll see if he can bust out of his recent slump tonight.

Joe Harris had his best game of the season on Wednesday and is looking to keep the party going. Aside from going 6-8 from downtown, he grabbed six rebounds and played really solid defense against Bogdanovic and the other Hawks. It looks as if Harris has regained his confidence after an ugly start to the season, and if he’s able to stay hot from deep and keep contributing all over the court, then it will open everything up for Brooklyn.

From the Vault

For a variety of reasons, Isiah Thomas doesn’t get enough mention when discuss the top, top, top tier of all time basketball greats. Big mistake.

More reading: Detroit Bad Boys



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Nets overcome Pistons late-game comeback to win first game of six-game road trip, 96-90


It wasn’t the prettiest but it’s a win … and a game the Nets can take pride in defensively.

Brooklyn escaped Detroit, defeating the Pistons, 96-90. With the win, The Nets extend their winning streak to four games and improve to 6-3 on the young season, fourth in the East.

“I’m proud of the guys. We’re a small team for the most part and we fought. We fought together. We’ve improved defensively. I think our defense is ahead of our offense, which I don’t think anyone was predicting coming into the year,” said Steve Nash on the team. “That makes me happy and I think our guys can feel a sense of pride in each other that they are defending.”

After a stagnant first half, then a dominant third quarter that had them pile up 39 points on the way to building a 16-point cushion heading into the fourth, the Nets left Detroit to come all the way back and made it a game with three and a half minutes remaining (88-86).

And then the game-long chippiness turned into flared tempers. Blake Griffin — 13 points, five rebounds and two assists — and Isaiah Stewart had been playing physical and going at it throughout the contest. With 2:57 remaining, the two had to be separated and after an official review, double technicals were assessed.

“We love that Blake brings it and give us that physicality. He’s also a very intelligent player so he’s taking charges, fighting on the glass and understands our concepts defensively. I thought offensively tonight he helped us with some screening,” said Nash on Griffin’s impact in the win. “He made some threes and some rolls, finishes and just made a lot of hustle plays for us. He’s somebody that we’ve come to rely on and count on. I thought he was great tonight.”

After things settled down, the Nets defense held up and the ball went to Kevin Durant who answered with two midrange jumpers to put the Nets up 92-89 with 1:13 remaining. On the following possession, Griffin took his second charge of the game and followed it up with a big back tap off a rebound, leading to a Durant midrange dagger to put Brooklyn up 94-89 with 12.9 seconds remaining.

Griffin fouled Kelly Olynyk and the Piston big man connected on one free throw with no time off the clock to cut the Nets lead to 94-90. LaMarcus Aldridge — who delivered 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting overall — caught the inbound pass, got fouled and sealed the deal with two free throws.

“We finally started scoring the ball. In the first and third, we scored the ball super stagnant and careless. In the second and fourth, we built ourselves a nice lead fortunately but they had nothing to lose at that point,” said Nash on the victory. “They started getting comfortable and knocking down shots to go on a run. Fortunately, we got Kevin the ball in his spot a few times and we’re able to seal it.”

Durant finished with a double-double of 29 points on 12-of-27 shooting from the field and 10 rebounds to go with five assists in 37 minutes. He became the first player in team history to begin a season with nine straight games of 20 points or more.

James Harden finished with his 60th triple-double of his career and the 14th as a Net — 13 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in 36 minutes. Harden moved into seventh place all-time, passing Larry Bird. Brooklyn is 13-1 when Harden records a triple-double and is on a 12-game win streak in that category.

It was one of two milestones for Harden. With his seventh point, he passed Clyde Drexler (22,195) on the all-time scoring list, putting him at No. 32. The Nets now have three players in the NBA’s top 50. Durant ranks 26th and Aldridge 48th.

The Nets opened the contest with the starting lineup of Harden, Durant, Griffin, Joe Harris and Bruce Brown and forged a 7-0 run out of the gates. Detroit answered, taking advantage of the Nets’ miscues and turnovers — three turnovers from Harden in a span of four possessions — and in early offense situations. Although Brooklyn left the door open, the Nets strung together a pair of threes to conclude the quarter with a slim 28-23 advantage.

It wasn’t the prettiest second quarter of Nets basketball. Brooklyn missed nine of their last 10 shots carrying over from the first and Detroit took their first lead of the night (29-28) off a mid-range jumper by Stewart with nine minutes remaining in the second. Both teams struggled to find a consistent rhythm offensively, but Detroit continued to thrive off Brooklyn’s offensive miscues.

The Pistons held the Nets to only 39 points at the half (39-39) shooting 32.5 percent from the field and 29.4 percent from three. While no Nets finished the half in double-figures, the ball movement resulted in 12 assists on the 13 made shots.

Brooklyn Nets v Detroit Pistons

Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Then, the Nets woke up in the third with an offensive explosion.

Brooklyn opened the frame outscoring Detroit, 21-10 through the first six minutes, highlighted by a pair of threes from Harden and Durant’s midrange shooting touch. With Durant (21 points through three quarters) starting to score at ease, it opened up shots for his teammates.

Brooklyn Nets v Detroit Pistons

Photo by Chris Schwegler/NBAE via Getty Images

Aldridge delivered a shooting punch off the bench. As the third quarter buzzer sounded, fans looked up and saw Brooklyn had tallied 39-point third quarter on a combined 15-of-19 shooting from the field to take a 78-62 lead heading into the final 12 minutes of action.

The 16-point lead was quickly trimmed to only nine points after the Pistons forged a 9-2 through the first three minutes of the fourth. Aldridge kept the ship afloat with a series of mid-range jumpers to boost the advantage back to double-digits. The Pistons raged back on a 12-2 run to cut the deficit to a single possession with just over three minutes remaining. Final score: Nets 96, Pistons 90.

The Pistons were led by Cade Cunningham with 17 points in 30 minutes followed by Kelly Olynyk with 14 points in 25 minutes off the bench. Detroit falls to 1-6 on the young season with the home loss.

The Film Room

Best player in the world.

Kevin Durant wasn’t his sharpest, though he still shot 44.4% from the field. To put things into perspective, that’s the lowest shooting percentage he’s recorded in any game so far this year. Yes, the lowest. He’s sniping shots at 57% accuracy on the season.

“I just really think that I missed too many shots tonight. I felt like I got to my spots but I got to do a better job sticking on my fundamentals once we get there so we don’t even have to be in these possessions,” said Durant about his performance.

Even in a game when he didn’t have his best stuff, Durant put on his super-suit and carried his ballclub home. This one was by no means a classic, to put it kindly. Shots were missing front-rim, side-rim, and sometimes all together. Both ballclubs shot a combined 4-for-33 from deep in the first half. Neither team was able to break 40 points after the first two quarters. Kevin Durant’s heroics to close this one out rescued what was a largely forgettable Friday meetup. Bless him for that.

Here’s the man himself, a possible MVP candidate, just cooly launching a hanging floater with the game on the line. No big deal. Just a near 7-footer galloping down the lane doing guard stuff. Totally normal.

Then to close it out, Durant hit Isaiah Stewart with his fabled hesitation dribble before blowing by for the layup. Last season while coming off the Achilles injury, getting to the cup was a bit of an ask early into the year. Now, he’s turned that “weakness” (if we’re calling it that) into a strength. He’s seen his average number of drives rise from 8.4 last season to 10.0 so far this year, a big jump.

“We executed the sets very, very well by screening, our positioning, and our spacing,” said James Harden about the Nets’ performance down the stretch. “It gave Kevin room to do what he does.”

And when he does it like this, well, yeah, letting him do what he does sounds like the right call.

Nic Claxton remains on same timetable for ramp-up return

Nic Claxton, who is dealing with a “non-COVID illness,” not further described, missed his fifth game Friday night. Brooklyn assigned Claxton to their NBA G League affiliate, the Long Island Nets Friday morning and recalled 10 minutes before tip-off.

Prior to the game, Steve Nash said his young big is still on the same timetable for a return. The Nets head coach believes Claxton will be able to start “ramping up” within the two-week period.

“It’s not prolonged. I think we’re in that two-week period and we’ll see if it’s shorter or a day or two longer. I still feel like we’re in that range,” Nash said. “Somewhere in there, we should have Nic back to start ramping up again.”

As Sponge Bob might say…

What’s next

The Nets will travel up north to Toronto to take on the Raptors on Sunday, November 7. The game is scheduled to tip at 7:30 p.m. ET.

For a different perspective, check out Detroit Bad Boys — our sister site covering the Pistons.



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Brooklyn Nets Tip Off Six-Game Road Trip in Detroit


After a six-game homestand, the Brooklyn Nets hit the road for a six-game trip with a 5-3 record, a three-game win streak, and a defense that is defying the offseason doubters.

Two weeks into the season, the Nets are eighth in defensive rating — 104.1 points allowed per 100 possessions — third in opponent effective field goal percentage (48.3) and fourth in opponent field goal percentage (42.2).

“I just think we have to have an underdog’s mentality,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash after Wednesday’s 117-108 win over Atlanta. “We have to be connected. We have to understand what we’re trying to accomplish defensively and play together down there. We have to communicate and have a big part of it is finding the collective clarity and connectivity and then a big part of it is just the underdog mentality. I think we did give up 12 offensive rebounds but they didn’t hurt us too much tonight as a result of the rebounds but I thought we got the big rebounds when it mattered and I thought our guys really stuck to it tonight and had that resilience down there.”

While the Nets are 24th in the league in opponent second-chance points allowed (13.8 per game) and 18th in total opponent rebounds per game (10.6), they’re actually right in the middle of the pack, 15th in the league, in defensive rebounding percentage (73.7). But with Brooklyn opponents shooting low percentages on a high number of field goal attempts — the Nets are allowing 93.4 shots per game, the most in the league — there are a lot of rebounds up for grabs on Brooklyn’s defensive end.

Gang rebounding is something Nash has emphasized and expects to continue to, saying “we’d be exceptional defensively if we rebounded better.”

“I mean individually, we’re guarding,” said James Harden following the win over Atlanta. “Coaches are doing an unbelievable job with the gamplan and making sure we’re prepared. And we’re just going out there playing hard for each other, having each other’s backs. We’re not the biggest team, so we’ve got to do everything before it touches the paint, and then as a union rebound a basketball. So we did that for four quarters. Obviously they’re a good team, especially offensively, they’re going to make some shots. They’re going to make some plays. But the things that we can control is the rebounding and loose balls and not turning the ball over. And I think we did a pretty good job of that tonight.”

Now the Nets head out for their longest road trip of the season and won’t be back at Barclays Center until they host the Golden State Warriors on Nov. 16.

“We look forward to it,” said Kevin Durant. “It is a good test to see where we are as a group. It was very important for us to spend these two weeks at home which is getting reacquainted with the city, our routines, each other. So it was good to be at home doing that. Take it on the road now.”

Let’s take a look at who’s waiting for Brooklyn on the road:

November 5 at Pistons, 7:00 p.m.

The Nets easily handled the Pistons in Brooklyn last Sunday, 117-91, behind a triple-double from James Harden and 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting from Kevin Durant. The centerpiece of Detroit’s rebuilding project, 2021 No. 1 pick Cade Cunningham, made his NBA debut the night before and didn’t play against Brooklyn. The Pistons are 1-7 after losses this week to Milwaukee and Philadelphia and last in the league in offensive rating (97.1). No team has finished with a mark that low since the Philadelphia 76ers during the 2014-15 season (94.9), who finished 18-64.

November 7 at Raptors, 3:30 p.m.

After a lost season while marooned in Tampa last year in which none of their top players such as Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, or Kyle Lowry played more than 56 games, the Raptors have had a chance to regroup. Lowry has moved on to Miami, but Toronto added Scottie Barnes with the fourth pick in the draft and forward OG Anunoby has taken a leap forward in the early going of his fifth NBA season. Siakam remains sidelined after offseason shoulder surgery. Toronto is 6-3 going into Friday night’s game against Cleveland, having won its last five games.

November 8 at Bulls, 7:00 p.m.

The Bulls jumped out to a quick start after their own refit, winning six of their first seven games. They added guards Lonzo Ball, DeMar DeRozan, and Alex Caruso to last year’s midseason pickup Nikola Vucevic, filling in a lot of the holes around All-Star Zach LaVine. They did lose promising second-year forward Patrick Williams to a wrist injury after just five games. The Bulls are in the top 10 in the NBA in offensive rating, defensive rating, and net rating.

November 10 at Magic, 7:00 p.m.

Orlando is incredibly young, with two rookies and nobody with more than three years’ experience in their starting lineup. But that group, which includes two top 10 picks from this year’s draft in Jalen Suggs and Franz Wagner, is plus-33 in 109 minutes through a Wednesday loss against Boston that dropped the Magic to 2-7. That’s the third highest mark in the NBA. It’s when the Magic go to the bench that they’re having trouble though, with their reserves outscored by 65 points so far, the worst mark in the league.

November 12 at Pelicans, 7:00 p.m.

The Pelicans are stuck in the mud without Zion Williamson, who underwent offseason foot surgery after averaging 27.0 points on 61.1 shooting last season. He’s out a few more weeks at least, and with Lonzo Ball in Chicago and Eric Bledsoe in LA with the Clippers, New Orleans is down three of its top scorers from last season and in the bottom third of the league in offensive rating. The Pelicans are 1-8 going into Friday’s game at Golden State.

November 14 at Thunder, 6:00 p.m.

The Thunder are another rebuilding squad, with 15 of their 17 players possessing three years or fewer of NBA experience entering the season. They’re 29th in the league in offensive rating, scoring 98.0 points per 100 possessions. Oklahoma City is 2-7 with both of their wins coming against the Lakers.



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Durant, Nets rally past Raptors 116-103, clinch playoff spot


TAMPA, FLA. (AP) — Kevin Durant scored seven of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, Jeff Green had 22 points and the Brooklyn Nets beat the Toronto Raptors 116-103 Tuesday night and clinched a playoff spot.

Durant, who was playing his second game after returning from a thigh injury, added 10 rebounds in 33 minutes for his eighth double-double of the season. Durant hit a 3-pointer with 1:47 remaining and glared at the Toronto bench after putting his team up 111-101.

Kyrie Irving finished with nine points, six rebounds and four assists while making just 3 of 13 shots. But the other seven Nets who played all finished in double figures on the night Brooklyn became the first Eastern Conference team to lock up a postseason berth.

The Nets won for a third straight time and the fourth time in five games to prevent Toronto from pulling off the season sweep. The Raptors, who were led by Kyle Lowry’s 24 points and six 3-pointers, had their five-game home winning streak end. One of those victories was a 114-103 defeat of the Nets in Tampa last week.

Newly signed guard Mike James scored all of his 11 points in the fourth quarter as the Nets rallied from an 83-80 deficit to start the final period. Blake Griffin scored 17 points off the bench, while Joe Harris added 16 points and four 3-pointers. Brooklyn shot 48.2%, hit 18 3-pointers and handed out 30 assists.

Toronto was in action less than 24 hours after beating Cleveland 112-96 in Tampa on Monday. Back-to-back sets of games have been a problem all season for the Raptors, who are 2-12 on the second night of consecutive games.

OG Anunoby scored 21 for Toronto.

NO TIME TOGETHER

Brooklyn coach Steve Nash said he’s come to grips with the Nets not having James Harden, Durant and Irving on the floor together prior to the playoffs, if even then. Remarkably, Brooklyn’s trio of superstars have played just seven games together all season because of injuries and COVID-19 protocols.

“We recognize now that we’re not going to have the luxury of a run of games with everyone available, and we may not have that to start the playoffs,” Nash said. “It’s been like an avalanche of relentless injuries, games and travel and it’s just part of the challenge for this team.”

Harden, who has been out since April 5, is back with the team and Nash said the guard went through light drills on Tuesday. “He’s not doing any high-intensity stuff, but he’s shooting and doing all the strength and rehabilitation work. Positive signs, but still a ways to go.”

TIP-INS

Nets: Brooklyn started a stretch of playing seven of the next eight on the road. … Irving came into Tuesday averaging more assists in April (8.3) than any other month of his career. He had 15 assists early in the month against Charlotte and averaged 10.3 assists in Brooklyn’s three games prior to Tuesday. … Irving’s first points of the night didn’t come until the 5:58 mark of the second quarter after opening with three straight misses.

Raptors: Toronto was once again without Chris Boucher (knee), Gary Trent (leg), Paul Watson (knee) and Jalen Harris (hip). … Lowry made his first three 3s and 5 of his first 7 after missing 13 of 14 attempts in his previous two games. He entered Tuesday in a 4-of-23 rut in the previous three games. … Fred VanVleet missed his first six shots and four 3s before connecting from beyond the arc in the second quarter. … Lowry scored at least 20 points for the 13th time this season, but for the first time since March 14.

UP NEXT

Nets: Play at Indiana on Thursday night.

Raptors: Play at Denver on Thursday night.



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Nets can’t overcome deficit late as Nets fall to Bulls, 115-107; Tyler Johnson hurt


It was more than a loss for the record books for Brooklyn Sunday.

Without James Harden and Kevin Durant, the Nets fell behind early and couldn’t overcome the deficit, losing to the Bulls, 115-107.

The Nets, who entered the fourth trailing by 17, made it a seven-point game on a late push in the fourth with their eyes set on escaping with a win, just as did twice last week. No such luck this time.

The Bulls came up with a big offensive rebound which resulted in Zach LaVine burying a 26-foot dagger three to put the Bulls up seven with 1:22 remaining. LaVine finished with 25 points in 35 minutes for Chicago. Steve Nash pulled the starters with 48.1 seconds remaining as the Bulls escaped with the win to improve to 20-28 on the year, ending a six- game losing streak.

“We weren’t real sharp tonight. Didn’t shoot the ball particularly well and didn’t have the requisite pace for our team to be dynamic offensively but more importantly, I thought we needed to be more active defensively,” Nash said. “Be more decisive and played at their pace tonight. Not a great performance by us but we’ll learn from it and keep going.”

With the loss, the Nets fall to 34-16 on the season and drop to second in the Eastern Conference standings. Outside of a loss in the standing, the game included some other losses.

Brooklyn faced two injury scares in the fourth. TylerJohnson appeared to hurt his right knee running up the court, a non-contact injury. Johnson was helped to the bench by Alize Johnson and Timothe Luawau-Cabarrot, putting barely any pressure on his knee. The Nets combo guard walked on his own power to the locker room but walked very gingerly. Brooklyn ruled Johnson out for the remainder of the game with a right knee strain. He finished with two points in 14 minutes.

Following Johnson’s departure, Shamet appeared to roll his right ankle – the same ankle that resulted in him missing five games – was subbed out and didn’t return to the game.

“We’ll see how they look in the morning. Tyler is going to get his knee evaluated and probably a scan but we don’t have any updates,” Nash said. “We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”

All five Nets starters finished in double-figures. Kyrie Irving paved the way for Brooklyn scoring 24 points to go along with 15 assists and two rebounds in 39 minutes. Irving struggled shooting the ball going 12-of-27 from the field and 0-of-4 from deep.

Jeff Green had another great game for Brooklyn as he finished with 21 points, two assists and a rebound in 25 minutes off the bench. The Nets finished the loss shooting 48.4 percent overall and 39.3 percent from deep.

“I think we just missed shots to tell you the truth,” Green said on the loss.

For Chicago, Nikola Vucevic continued his terror on the Nets for the first time in a Bulls uniform. The center posted 22 points and 13 rebounds on 10-of-17 shooting in 32 minutes as Chicago finished the win shooting 55.1 percent overall and 36.4 percent from deep. In four games vs. Brooklyn, Vucevic is averaging 26.3 points and 13.3 rebounds.

The Nets opened the contest missing their first six shots but Blake Griffin got the Nets on the board with a nifty and-one post up followed by a straightaway three to tie the game.

Brooklyn’s offense was flowing. LaMarcus Aldridge and Griffin carried the load, taking advantage of their ability to space the floor. The frontcourt duo, both of whom started, scored 13 of the Nets 28 first-quarter points but, Chicago got a late period boost to cut the deficit to three as the Nets headed to the second with a 28-25 lead. Brooklyn’s biggest lead was nine points as the team shot 45.8 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from deep.

The Bulls opened the second cutting the deficit to one and tied up the score at 31 with 7:52 remaining. Both teams started to find a rhythm offensively, trading baskets along the way. For the Nets, Irving put on a show in the second, which included an eye-popping lefty bank shot from the foul line and a handful of nifty finishes to finish the first half with a team-high 10 points and five assists in 18 minutes.

Chicago got stops and on the other end, forged a 22-9 that spanned over five minutes to close out the second nursing a 57-46 lead. The Nets went cold late, ending the first half shooting 41.3 percent from the field but struggled from behind the arc, shooting 28.6 percent (4-of-14).

“I didn’t like it a lot. I thought we didn’t play with enough pace and not enough movement or activity,” Nash said about the closing of the first half. “We had a hard time spacing them out because we were a little bogged down. We were playing in tight spaces instead of making them guard in big spaces. It wasn’t a great offensive performance from us tonight. Some of it is shot-making but more of it is playing at that pace.”

The Bulls came out of the locker room spreading the scoring while mixing in two threes to balloon their lead to 15 as Nash called an early timeout with 8:48 remaining. The Nets, who struggled to make shots in the third, forged a 9-0 scoring run to cut the deficit to 11 but Chicago continued to respond off Brooklyn’s scoring runs to head into the final 12 minutes of play boasting an 89-72 lead.

Nash played Chris Chiozza, Alize Johnson, and Nic Claxton, along with Landry Shamet and Jeff Green who kicked off the fourth with back-to-back threes, contributing to an 8-0 run to cut the Bulls’ lead to nine, leading to Billy Donovan to call a timeout with 10:42 remaining.

After injuries to Johnson and Shamet, the Nets made a late-game push looking to overcome a game-long deficit, forging an 11-2 run to cut the deficit to seven but couldn’t pull away with the comeback win in the end.

The Film Room

Pre-game, Steve Nash expressed some optimism about playing LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin together.

“I think LaMarcus and Blake could very well play together. It’s still very early. We’d like to look at different things. But those two can certainly play together in that they can both stretch the floor and they both can post-up. Blake can play make and LaMarcus is a good passer out of the post,” explained Nash. “I think there’s potential there for that to be a combination in certain scenarios.”

Shortly after, Brooklyn’s starting lineup of Kyrie Irving, Bruce Brown, Joe Harris, Blake Griffin, and LaMarcus Aldridge was announced. And while that lineup certainly has its positives, namely heaps of scoring and pick-and-pop options galore, it’s also SLOW. AS. MOLASSES. The numbers support that claim; hat tip to John Schuhmann, but the Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge pairing produced a -19.5 net rating in the 22 minutes of shared floor time. Egad!

Nash, always attentive to noticing whether an experiment has gone right or wrong, quickly changed his stance on that pairing after the game.

“We experimented with the big lineup,” said Nash after the loss. “Very unlike us in some respects. I don’t love it for us. Having said that, it’s hard to judge on one performance… Going forward, that’s not something I think we’ll see a ton of.”

Moreover, with Aldridge, Irving, and Aldridge — Brooklyn’s three-best creators given the shorthanded roster — all in the same lineup, this meant that Nash’s bench unit wasn’t exactly stuffed with offensive punch. Like, who exactly is the best scorer in a grouping of Jeff Green, Nicolas Claxton, Landry Shamet, Tyler Johnson, and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. Shamet, right?

What resulted was sloppy play from a unit that didn’t have much to offer.

Look, it’s the first game in a back-to-back, and the Nets are currently running heavily on its reserves with Kevin Durant and James Harden out of the fold. So you can’t fault Steve Nash for trying things, mixing and matching combinations with his new players. But this one was a dud. Onto the next.

Steve Nash on ruling James Harden out: ‘It’s just precaution’

Prior to Sunday’s game against the Bulls, Steve Nash said he held James Harden out against the Bulls for precaution as he missed his second straight game with right hamstring tightness.

“It’s just precaution. If this was a playoff game, I’m pretty sure he’d be here with us but I think we all wanted to be cautious and give him an opportunity for an extra day’s rest,” Nash said. “Make sure he is as healed as possible. We’re trying to make a measured decision.”

Neither Harden or Kevin Durant traveled with the Nets to Chicago for Sunday’s game. Instead, both superstars are back in Brooklyn working with the performance team on their respective rehabs.

“They’re working out today back home. We left some staff behind to work with them to save them the travel.”

Going small down the stretch came at a cost

The Nets went small down the stretch, substituting Joe Harris for Nicolas Claxton at the 9:26-mark in the fourth quarter, thereby sliding Jeff Green to the center position. This was likely done to go “all offense” and dig the Nets out of the 13-point deficit.

But what this meant for the Nets is that Nicolas Claxton only played 8 total minutes after his breakout month of March, in which the 21-year-old averaged 20.2 minutes per game. For reference, he played just 14 minutes against the Charlotte Hornets, the first game since the LaMarcus Aldridge signing. No reason to raise the alarm just yet, but it’s already something to watch.

His time on the floor (or lack thereof) earned some callouts from some of the industry’s brightest and best.

Even so, Claxton earned a shoutout from his new teammate Blake Griffin after the game.

“Nic’s energy is just unbelievable,” said Griffin of Clax. “He goes and gets to rebounds he has no business getting, can sit down and guard 1-through-5, and then does a great job of finishing.”

As said before, it’s something to watch. Nothing to freak out about. It’s just worth monitoring.

What’s next

The Nets will return to action Monday as the team hosts the New York Knicks at Barclays Center. The game is set to tip at 7:00 PM ET.

For a different perspective, check out Blog a Bull – our sister site covering the Chicago Bulls.





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Nets travel to Chicago for afternoon road trip vs. Bulls


Ya win some … then you win some more. Not only did the Nets trounce the fourth seed Hornets, 120-108, Thursday night, they introduced a new starter, LaMarcus Aldridge.

Aldridge, who hadn’t played in a month after being shut down by the Spurs, had 11 points, nine rebounds, six assists, two steals, a 3-pointer and a block in 33 minutes. His +22 rating was his best since December 28, 2019 and in one first quarter stretch the 6’11” center accounted for 15 straight points for Brooklyn, either scoring or assisting.

The opponent Sunday afternoon will be the new-look Chicago Bulls. It’s an odd road trip. The game is sandwiched between a four-game trip and a three-game trip. Go figure.

Fighting for a place in the NBA’s play-in tournament, the denizens of the Windy City are now the 10th seed in the East, just barely in post-season with a record of 19-28, four games behind the 8th seed but only five and a half out of fourth. That’s the way of the East. The Nets, 76ers and Bucks dominate while the rest of the conference hope for lightning to strike.

The Bulls remade themselves at the trade deadline, sending Wendell Carter Jr., Otto Porter Jr. and two firsts to Orlando for Nikola Vucevic and Al Farouq Aminu. So far, it hasn’t worked. In the four games, Vucevic has played, the Bulls have racked up four losses while he’s averaged 20.5 points and nine rebounds. Worse yet, the Bulls have lost six straight.

Where to follow the game

It’s going to get tricky. The game is the first of 13 on something called the “YES2 Network,” a loose configuration of cable channels YES put together because of the annual conflict with Yankee games. Problem is that there are whole swaths of the New York area, primarily in New Jersey, where the game will be unavailable on TV. If you have Xfinity from Comcast, you’re out of luck. So download the YES app if you live in those areas and console yourself knowing that seven of the 13 YES2 games will also be carried on national TV, including four of the next five. WFAN 101.9 FM on radio. Tip off after 2:00 PM ET.

Injuries

Kevin Durant and James Harden (both hamstring) are out. Stay patient. This may be the last game before the Big Three are reunited on court. Spencer Dinwiddie is out, too, of course. Blake Griffin is available meaning we might get to see him and Aldridge together.

Our old friend, Garrett Temple, is out, like KD and Harden with hamstring issues. Zach LaVine, who played Friday, is still listed as day-to-day, as is Coby White.

The game

This is the first of three meetings between the two teams. The other two will be played the last week of the season.

Despite the trade deadline makeover, which also included the addition of Daniel Theis and Javonte Green, late of the Celtics, the Bulls are spiraling, losing eight of their last nine and six straight, four on a just concluded West Coast swing.

There are a number of problems starting with the integration of all the new faces, particularly Vucevic, with the remaining roster. For example, there’s the uncertainty about whether Vucevic and Lauri Markkanen will fit up front. The fourth year pro was once considered a core piece along with Zach LaVine but his inconsistency and injury history has him in the doghouse, backing up Vucevic. Now, the core is LaVine, Vucevic and Patrick Williams, the 6’8” power forward who’s all of 19 and with great potential.

The big current issue, though, is at point guard. Tomas Satoransky and Coby White aren’t getting it done the way coach Billy Donovan would like. Here’s Joe Crowley of the Sun-Times on the Bulls’ point guard situation after Friday’s loss to Utah.

“There’s things that Sato can do better,” coach Billy Donovan said. “There’s things that Coby can do better. I would hope those guys are not satisfied with where they’re at. Do I think both can be better? Absolutely. I think everybody on our team can be better. I think we as coaches can be better. That’s the real key. Am I satisfied with them? Yes. I’m satisfied with them, but I hope there’s more in them to get better. They both have to get better. We have to get better.’’

And there’s the problem. Donovan can’t lean on his guards from game to game, as good NBA playoff teams usually do.

Of course, the backcourt is the Nets strong point. Interestingly, Sam Smith, the Hall of Fame basketball writer who know works for the Bulls website, wrote this week about how the Nets strength in the back court could lead to a long-term solution for the Bulls. Smith likes Spencer Dinwiddie who the Bulls cut in 2016 and sent to the G League where the Nets plucked him out of obscurity. Smith describes that how Dinwiddie could fit if he opts out of his option and becomes a free agent.

They let him languish with the Windy City Bulls while they tried out other point guards. His story and recovery have been remarkable, and he’s not too old. You figure there’s no future for him with the Nets, who can just do buyouts the rest of the run until the league bans that biased practice. He’s more of a scorer, but I do like him to run a team. I wouldn’t be opposed to taking a chance, though with the ACLs, off course, it would be a risk. Plural ACLs while possible, aren’t great. He’s a heck of an interesting guy…

In the meantime, the Bulls desperately need a win and the Nets. So does Vucevic whose teams are 2-15 going back to February 15. One of those of course was against the Nets as a member of the Magic on March 24.

Player to watch

Just when you thought you’d seen enough of Nikola Vucevic, here he comes again, this time in a Bulls uniform. The well-known Nets killer averaged 28 points and 12 rebounds against the Nets in three games playing for Orlando before the deadline. Now, he’ll get to torment the Nets three more times as a Bull starting Sunday!

Here’s a highlight reel from his best game against the Nets, back in January when he put up 34 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists while shooting 6-of-12 from three.

No need for a lot of analysis. Vucevic destroys the Nets. Note this, however. That was a matinee game as well and that Nets won.

It’ll be interesting to see how LaMarcus Aldridge handles Vucevic. They didn’t play each other this season, but last year, the two faced off twice as members of the Spurs and Magic respectively. In those two games, Vucevic was 4-of-16 and 7-of-16 and scored 26 points. As noted, Vucevic averaged 28 points a game vs. the Nets.

From the Vault

Lets go back to the 1998 Eastern Conference playoffs, Round 1 because, well, Michael Jordan. Jordan said before the game that the only way the New Jersey Nets could win even one game in the best-of-five series was if the Bulls “fell asleep.” In Game 1, the Nets were woke, taking the Bulls into OT until MJ said, enough.

More reading: Blog-a-Bull.



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