Star-less Nets no match for league-best Jazz
No Harden, Durant and Irving leads to 30-point loss in Utah
The Brooklyn Nets have spent the better part of the past month and a half proving they can win consistently without all three of their superstars in the lineup.
But winning without any of them proved to be too much Wednesday night in front of 5,546 fans, 30 percent of capacity, at Utah’s Vivint Smart Home Arena.
With Kevin Durant working his way back from a hamstring strain, Kyrie Irving continuing a three-game break to deal with a family matter and James Harden getting a well-deserved night off, Brooklyn was outmatched from start to finish in a 118-88 drubbing at the hands of the league-best Jazz.
“That’s the team with the best record in the league, we went out there severely undermanned,” ceded Nets head coach Steve Nash after watching his team lose for just the third time in its last 19 games.
While Durant and Irving were ruled out before the contest, Harden, who put up 25 points and 17 assists in Tuesday night’s victory in Portland, was a game-time decision due to a sore neck which he played through against the Blazers.
“He’s really banged up,” Nash said of the Nets’ Most Valuable Player candidate and the reigning NBA Player of the Month.
Despite sitting out, Harden was dressed and ready to go in if the Nets needed him at any point.
Instead of bolstering his league-best assists numbers or aiming for his 12th triple-double of the year, “The Beard” instead worked the bench and the officials all night like an assistant coach.
But it was to no avail as the Jazz (31-11) jumped out to a 38-17 lead after one quarter and never looked back.
Rather than lament the 30-point loss, Nash turned the page to Friday night’s game in Detroit, where the Nets (30-15) hope to have Harden back in the fold.
Durant and Irving won’t suit up again for Brooklyn until at least Monday, when the Nets return to Downtown’s Barclays Center to host Minnesota.
“We don’t take anything from this, missing our three top players, missing Blake (Griffin),” Nash noted.
“Once the game got away early we kind of were able to rest some of our other rotation guys. So we don’t take anything from this game except for the opportunity for young guys to develop and play and get an opportunity.”
Though they were blown out, the Nets did provide some eye-opening performances Wednesday.
Newly signed forward Alize Johnson put up a career-high 23 points and 15 rebounds and rookie Reggie Perry had 12 points and eight boards for Brooklyn, which only managed 38 points in the first half.
“Most importantly they stuck together, played hard, defensively were pretty good; maybe gave up too many 3s, but otherwise did a lot of good things defensively,” said Nash.
“And I just told them I was proud of them. And it was great to see some of those guys get some minutes, get some opportunity to make some buckets get some rebounds and stops and just kind of develop.”
The Big Three weren’t the only ones missing in action against the Jazz, who got 27 points from Donovan Mitchell en route to avenging a 130-96 loss in Brooklyn on Jan. 5.
Veteran sharpshooter Joe Harris logged five minutes before taking the rest of the contest off, Griffin was given a rest day after playing 20 minutes in his second game as a Net Tuesday in Portland and Jeff Green was pulled after managing just four points on 2-of-11 shooting in 17 minutes.
Brooklyn was also without key reserve Landry Shamet, who is sidelined with a sprained ankle.
“I’m not sure about Landry. Blake will play in Detroit. James I hope can play,” Nash said of the chances of putting something resembling a competitive squad on the floor Friday.
Ironically, it was after a humbling loss at league-worst Detroit on Feb. 9 that turned Brooklyn’s season around.
The Nets were 14-12 following the gruesome defeat, and Nash wasn’t shy about calling his team out for a lackluster effort against a lesser opponent.
That wasn’t the case Wednesday night in Utah, where the Nets sent their “B” team out to battle the squad with the NBA’s top record and a 17-2 home mark, making it much easier for Nash and his players to turn the page.
“We’ll move on to Detroit and hopefully have some guys back to play,” he said.
NOTHING BUT NET: Going from the G-League to a spot on the Nets’ roster apparently inspired Johnson, who went 11-of-15 from the floor, handed out three assists and picked up a pair of steals against the Jazz. “Just prove to everybody that I belong here in the NBA and I’ve put in a lot of hard work and I’m going to continue to just keep working and be the best player I can be,” the 24-year-old Missouri State alum, who inked a 10-day contract on Monday. “I’m just taking it day-by-day, trying not to think about (whether I’ll get a full-time roster spot). Every time I get out there on the floor and get an opportunity, I try to play like it’s my last game. That’s just how I’m approaching this thing, and everything else will kind of take care of itself.” … Brooklyn had won nine consecutive road contests against Western Conference opponents before Wednesday’s loss. … Monday’s game in Brooklyn vs. the Timberwolves will kick off a three-game homestand for the Nets, who will host Houston next Wednesday and Charlotte on April Fool’s Day.
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