Irving scratched, Nets rolled by Sixers
Kyrie’s hamstring limits Brooklyn in MLK Jr. Day loss to Philly
The Brooklyn Nets are cautiously optimistic that Kyrie Irving’s hamstring tightness won’t hinder the superstar’s ability to rejoin his teammates soon.
As for the team’s ongoing funk, that might last a while regardless of whether Irving is in the lineup or not.
“We gotta take care of [the ball]. We gotta screen better. We gotta pass better. We gotta decision-make better,” said Nets Head Coach Kenny Atkinson after Brooklyn’s 117-111 Martin Luther King Jr. Day loss to Philadelphia in front of 16,801 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
Irving, who had played four games since returning from a two-month absence due to a right-shoulder impingement, felt discomfort in his right hamstring on Sunday, and by game time on Monday he was ruled out.
That didn’t seem to bother the rest of the Nets, who surged out to a 68-64 halftime advantage and were up by as many as 10 points midway through the third quarter before giving away yet another significant second-half lead.
Ben Simmons proved to be Brooklyn’s undoing as the lengthy point guard riddled the Nets’ defense for a career high-tying 34 points to go with 12 rebounds and 12 assists.
Brooklyn committed 22 turnovers and shot just 65 percent from the free-throw line en route to its fourth consecutive loss and 11th defeat in the last 13 games overall.
Spencer Dinwiddie scored a team-high 22 points, Caris LeVert added 16 off the bench and rookie Nic Claxton contributed a career-best 15 for the Nets, who hope to have Irving back in the fold Thursday night when LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers come to Brooklyn.
But the Nets only won one game during Irving’s brief return to action and just haven’t found a way to get past the slew of significant injuries that is threatening to prevent them from reaching the postseason for a second straight campaign.
“We don’t really have time for a mental struggle,” insisted Dinwiddie as the Nets remained in the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot despite falling a season-high six games below the .500 mark.
“Obviously, our season has been very up and down with injuries and lineups and all of that different stuff, so we have to continue to come together as a group,” he added. “Our focus can’t be external, it has to be internal.”
With Kevin Durant more than likely out for the season due to an Achilles injury suffered during last year’s NBA Finals, Irving missing 27 games thus far and DeAndre Jordan set to be re-evaluated next week for a broken finger, the Nets are certainly depleted of depth.
But they also appear out of sync in crunch time, squandering lead after lead when it matters most, while slipping precipitously in the standings during a season that many thought would result in a significant breakthrough for the franchise, even without Durant.
“That’s definitely tough, so that’s why I said our focus has to be internal and not external,” Dinwiddie said. “We have to continue to have the next one up mentality, ban together as a unit, gain as much chemistry as possible, play as together as possible, do all of those things.”
Jarrett Allen, who scored 13 points and ripped down 13 rebounds for the Nets, led by as many as nine points with just under 14 minutes to play in regulation before their latest collapse.
“Towards the end, we couldn’t hold onto the ball. It wasn’t anybody in particular, literally everybody was turning it over,” Allen said as the Nets increased their turnovers-per-game average to a whopping 15.4, the third-highest in the NBA.
“Obviously there are two big keys to this game. Give them a lot of credit for the first one, they turned us over a ton – 22 turnovers – and I thought they really hurt us on the glass,” Atkinson said. “I think they ended up having 13 more shots than us, which is not going to work against a really good team.”
Following their first winning season in five years and their first playoff appearance in four campaigns, the Nets (18-24) were supposed to be a really good team as well.
Injuries aside, although they have been plentiful, this year’s unit has simply failed to jell on any level, especially at home, where they are a mediocre 11-11 following Monday’s disheartening defeat.
When asked how the Nets might get back on the winning track, Dinwiddie responded, “Obviously, getting healthy of course.”
“But just figuring it out and gaining that chemistry with our own units, our own lineups and then once we kind of have ourselves down, then we can impose our will on the other teams,” he added.
That appears to be a long way off with the way the Nets are playing at the moment, and have been for the past several weeks.
Nothing But Net: Since putting together a season-best 9-3 run from Nov. 16 to Dec. 8, Brooklyn has gone 5-14. … Irving’s hamstring tightness wasn’t initially expected to keep him out Monday, but Atkinson indicated that the team opted to sit him in order to get some rest for the injured leg. “I don’t think you want tightness to go to a strain,” Atkinson said. “With these things you want to err on the side of caution.” … After hosting James and the Lakers at Barclays on Thursday, the Nets will go to Detroit on Saturday before visiting Madison Square Garden to take on the Knicks Sunday.
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