Best is yet to come for title-hungry Nets
Open second half of season at Barclays Center vs. Celtics
The Brooklyn Nets have been without Spencer Dinwiddie since December due to a partially torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee that may sideline the sixth man extraordinaire for the season.
Kevin Durant has already missed 18 of Brooklyn’s first 37 games, due either to COVID-19 contact-tracing protocols or his ongoing bout with a hamstring strain.
Kyrie Irving has only participated in 26 games thus far this year, sitting out a couple of weeks during his unexpected hiatus from the team and getting his share of rest days to deal with minor injuries.
James Harden’s arrival via a blockbuster four-team swap in January shook up the Nets’ lineup and left many ponderng how he, Durant and Irving would share the basketball.
Despite these potential obstacles to their overall success during what many expect to be one of their greatest seasons ever, the Nets have hardly blinked.
Heading into last week’s All-Star break, Brooklyn boasted a 24-13 record, good for second best in the Eastern Conference, and had won 10 of its previous 11 games heading into Thursday night’s second-half opener vs. Boston at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
The Nets are also riding a franchise-record seven-game road winning streak, including last week’s first-half finale in Houston.
How did they overcome and even thrive despite all their potential pitfalls?
Just ask Steve Nash, Brooklyn’s rookie head coach who was also named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for February.
“I think adversity builds resolve and toughness and a cohesion,” said Nash while addressing the Nets’ first-half surge toward the top of the conference standings.
“I think it’s hard to say when you’ve had the requisite adversity. But I think we’ve had plenty of stuff thrown at us. We’ve had some bad losses, we’ve had some poor performances, we’ve had a waterlogged schedule, we had lots of change in our roster.”
They’ve also had plenty of success as Harden has not only meshed quickly with his new teammates, but has taken on the role of facilitator, entering the break with a league-best 11.1 assists per contest. The former three-time scoring champion already has eight triple-doubles in 24 games with Brooklyn.
Irving ranks eighth in the league in scoring at 27.2 points per game and Durant, while sidelined for nearly half the season thus far, is putting up 29 per contest, though he doesn’t have enough games played to qualify among the NBA leaders.
Perhaps most importantly, Brooklyn’s Big Three has done a great job of setting the table for lesser-known talents such as reserve guard Bruce Brown, fast-emerging second-year center Nic Claxton and veteran forward Jeff Green.
Joe Harris, the longest-tenured Net, is the team’s fourth-leading scorer at 14.8 points per game.
No matter what has come their way in this highly anticipated campaign, which many hope will end with Brooklyn securing its first major pro sports championship since 1955, these Nets have responded.
“So lots of different things have been thrown at us, and to see us rounding into some sort of cohesion has been really rewarding,” Nash noted.
“You want to walk that fine line between getting punched in the gut repeatedly and winning games. And it’s at the same time still building, moving forward and gaining that resolve … for when it counts.”
It won’t truly count for the Nets until the first round of the playoffs, which is still more than two months away.
Between now and then, all Brooklyn can do is bolster its postseason positioning after entering Thursday’s game against the Celtics just one-half game behind conference-leading Philadelphia for the top overall seed in the East and home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.
Nash, who made his initial foray into NBA coaching during the season’s nominal first half, still has 35 regular-season games and what he hopes will be a long postseason run before he can shake his rookie moniker.
But according to the Hall of Fame point guard and two-time MVP, he isn’t taking his Coach of the Month honor too seriously.
Especially since he knows how many players and coaches contributed to his receiving the honor.
“I think that represents how many people have an impact on these guys,” Nash said of the award. “Our coaching staff is outstanding, our performance team does a great job preparing them to play every night and the players, they do the work.
“Anytime (Harden) gets player of the month, we’ve got a chance to be coach of the month,” he added. “I could thank James and the rest of the players, but really, great coaching staff, great performance team. Everybody plays a part in our success and when you win games you get recognized, but it’s a big, big group that deserves the credit.”
Nash would like nothing better than to make a similar speech after the Nets wrap up their parade down Flatbush Avenue as NBA champions later this year.
NOTHING BUT NET: Durant isn’t likely to return vs. the Celtics on Thursday. The former two-time Finals MVP has sat out nine consecutive games with a strain in his left hamstring and the Nets aren’t taking any chances. They made sure Durant stayed out leading up to the All-Star break and he did not participate in Sunday’s All-Star Game in Atlanta despite being a team captain. The Nets have not indicated when Durant will return except to note that his injury will require “an additional recovery period.” … Blake Griffin, the new power forward the Nets signed on Monday, could be in uniform vs. Boston Thursday or Saturday when Brooklyn hosts his former Pistons teammates at Barclays.
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