Freefalling Nets can’t beat tanking Cavs
Brooklyn’s 7th straight loss puts it in race for No. 1 Pick
The Brooklyn Nets can’t win for losing.
Unless, of course, they keep losing.
After suffering their season-high seventh consecutive defeat Monday night at Downtown’s Barclays Center against the tanking Cleveland Cavaliers, the Nets find themselves in the hunt for the top overall pick in June’s NBA Draft, meaning they are in serious contention for the services of Duke superstar Zion Williamson.
Following the deflating 99-97 setback to Cleveland in front of 10,983 fans on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, Brooklyn dropped to 2-10 since Caris LeVert was shelved for several months with a dislocated right foot and 8-17 overall this season.
While the Nets were lamenting what could have been in the moments after Cleveland’s Alec Burks dunked home the winning points with 3.2 seconds to play, Brooklyn boosted its chances to land the most sought-after amateur player in the nation.
Williamson, who is being touted as the next LeBron James, is currently the future property of the Phoenix Suns, who are holding down the NBA cellar with a putrid 4-19 mark.
The Cavs came to Brooklyn with the same record, but they found a way to hold off the Nets after a furious fourth-quarter charge that saw rookie Rodions Kurucs knot the game at 97-97 on a follow of a D’Angelo Russell miss with 19 ticks remaining.
But Burks’ driving slam proved unanswerable as Spencer Dinwiddie’s bid for a game-winning 3-point prayer at the buzzer missed the rim.
“We always need that stop. Always need that rebound. Unfortunately, we don’t get it, so the results are like this,” said Russell, who did his best to help Brooklyn end its longest slide since an eight-game skid from Feb. 2-22.
Russell finished with 30 points, eight rebounds and six assists and Kurucs fueled the Nets’ late-game run with 12 points over the final 14 minutes.
None of it was enough to overcome a surprisingly solid four quarters by Cleveland, which has traded off most of its remaining parts after losing James to the Los Angeles Lakers via free agency this past offseason.
Getting the next LeBron is clearly the Cavs’ priority, but the Nets now join Phoenix (4-19), Cleveland (5-18), Chicago (5-19), Atlanta (5-19) and the New York Knicks (8-17) as frontrunners for the right to draft Williamson.
Brooklyn, which has complete control of its own first-round pick for the first time since 2013, boasted a solid 6-7 record the night LeVert suffered his ugly injury in Minnesota.
At that point, the Nets were pointing to being in the mix for an Eastern Conference playoff spot for the first time in four years.
Now, they must consider keeping LeVert on the shelf for as long as possible in the hopes of increasing their chances to pick No. 1 overall next June, though they will never admit it.
“We’re struggling offensively,” Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson admitted. “Not sure we’re going to go back to the drawing board, but our offense was. I thought we missed a lot of open shots, I will say that. But we don’t have the rhythm right now. We’re off rhythm and we’ve got to try to find it.”
Getting sharp-shooter Joe Harris back may aid in that quest.
Harris, who was red-hot from 3-point range before going down with an abductor strain during a home loss to Utah last Wednesday, was sorely needed in the fourth quarter here Monday night as Brooklyn managed just 19 points over the final 12 minutes.
“Hopefully Joe will come back, and we’ll get back to our kind of normal lineup, but right now we’re out of sorts,” Atkinson ceded after his squad made just 10 of its 40 attempts from beyond the arc.
Harris may be available for duty when the Nets host Oklahoma City here Friday night, but whether he plays or not, Brooklyn fans may now be hoping for even more losses as their team is in play for what is expected to be the biggest franchise-changing player in the draft since Anthony Davis.
Finishing with the NBA’s worst record no longer guarantees a team the right to select first overall, but Atkinson’s third consecutive 50-plus loss season will enhance the Nets’ chances to land Williamson and resurrect a franchise that hasn’t finished above .500 since the 2013-14 campaign.
In other words, losing may be the only path to a winning future here in Brooklyn.
Nothing But Net: Kurucs, who has seen his most action of the season the past two games after sitting out the previous seven, was enthused by his late-game spurt. The 20-year-old Latvian forward went 6-of-10 from the floor against the Cavaliers and grabbed four rebounds while picking up a steal. “It felt great actually, because that was a dream for a little kid who comes from Latvia, from a little town,” said Kurucs, who was Brooklyn’s second-round pick last June. “It would be cool if we would win, I would enjoy it more, but it felt great. I enjoyed it.” … The Nets have also lost their last seven games at Barclays Center dating to a 122-97 blowout of Philadelphia here on Nov. 4.