Slumping Nets in dire need of ‘break’
Fall back to .500 mark following fifth loss in six games in Toronto
The Nets have overcome so much during this surprising bounce-back season in Brooklyn that many expected them to keep rolling on despite the loss of Sixth Man of the Year candidate Spencer Dinwiddie three weeks ago.
But our borough’s NBA franchise has struggled mightily since their top reserve went down last month with a thumb injury, falling to 3-6 in his absence following Monday night’s heartbreaking 127-125 loss to the Toronto Raptors in front of a sellout crowd of 19,800 at Scotiabank Arena.
Dinwiddie, who was just beginning to jell with All-Star backcourt mate D’Angelo Russell when he opted to have surgery to repair torn ligaments in his right thumb, worked out with his teammates Sunday, but was limited to using his left hand only during light drills.
His return certainly cannot be described as imminent, leaving the Nets (29-29) to negotiate at least the next four to six weeks without him, if not longer.
The Los Angeles native and reigning NBA All-Star Skills Competition champion won’t get a chance to defend his title this weekend in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Russell, rookie Rodions Kurucs, second-year center Jarrett Allen and sharp-shooter Joe Harris will all be participating in various events.
Instead, Dinwiddie, who was shelved while averaging 17.2 points per game — second only to Russell on the Brooklyn roster — will doubtlessly be working his way back into playing shape, hoping to return in time to drive the Nets to their first postseason appearance since the 2014-15 campaign.
Though they managed to fight through and even thrive despite injuries to key players like Caris Levert, Allen Crabbe, Harris, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and veteran forward Jared Dudley, the Nets haven’t quite found the remedy to dealing with the loss of Dinwiddie just yet.
“Through the course of these injuries, [we] have found some other solutions,” third-year head coach Kenny Atkinson noted when Dinwiddie first went down for what many believed would be at least a month or even six weeks.
“Like D’Angelo stepped up when Caris went out, too, we’ve somehow managed to fill the gap and be resilient and we’ve just got to do it again,” added Atkinson.
“I’m just trying to look at it in a positive light, but obviously I feel terrible for Spencer, because he was playing great.”
And so were the Nets.
They went an NBA-best 19-5 during a 24-game stretch from early December to late January, and even reeled off a season-high nine-game winning streak at the Barclays Center.
Though the schedule has been demanding during these last nine games, there didn’t seem to be any excuse for an embarrassing 125-106 home loss to Chicago (13-44) last Friday night.
“They outplayed us 1 through 12,” Atkinson lamented after the humbling defeat. “Our defense was just non-existent.”
The defense was certainly porous and out of sync again in Toronto Monday night, but the Nets did play one of their better games against a top Eastern Conference contender.
Russell continued to cement his first-time All-Star status with 28 points and a career-high 14 assists while Crabbe, who missed 26 games with a knee injury, added 22 points while draining 6-of-10 3-pointers.
Harris was even sharper from long range, going 7-of-8 from beyond the arc as the Nets matched a season high with 20 makes from 3-point range.
None of it proved to be enough, however, as Raptors superstar and soon-to-be free agent Kawhi Leonard snapped a 125-125 tie on a bank shot with 4.1 ticks left on the clock.
Russell tried to answer, but his 26-footer fell off the rim at the buzzer, leaving the Nets with their fifth loss in six games.
LeVert, who missed 42 games with a right-foot injury before returning to action last week, managed only six points on 3-of-11 shooting against the Raptors as he continues to search for his niche in Brooklyn’s latest lineup.
“Is he clicking on all cylinders? No, but I don’t care, quite honestly,” Atkinson told the Associated Press following his team’s latest defeat.
The Nets will have one more chance to go into this weekend’s All-Star break with a win as they visit the dismal Cleveland Cavaliers Wednesday night.
Monday’s loss dropped Brooklyn back to the .500 mark for the first time since it was 23-23 following a wild 145-142 overtime win in Houston.
Dinwiddie played the hero’s role that night, pouring in a team-high 33 points while dishing out 10 assists.
And now the Nets must find a way to win consistently without him before their playoff position grows more tenuous.
Brooklyn currently holds the sixth spot in the East postseason race, but is just 2 1/2 games clear of ninth-place Miami, which is on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
In a year full of masterful adjustments by Atkinson and his players in the face of daunting injuries to key players, this Nets team desperately needs to make another one before this season of unexpected hope turns into one of bitter disappointment.
In other local sports news, the Brooklyn Cyclones officially announced Tuesday morning that manager Edgardo Alfonzo, a former All-Star second baseman for the parent-club Mets, would be back for a third season on Coney Island with an all new coaching staff.
Alfonzo, who has spent six summers in Brooklyn serving in different capacities, will be joined on the Baby Bums’ bench by hitting instructor Delwyn Young, pitching coach Josue Matos and former Mets outfielder Endy Chavez.
The Cyclones, who finished 40-35 last year but missed out on a playoff spot by a half-game in the wild-card standings, will open their 2019 season on June 14 vs. the archrival Staten Island Yankees.
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