Slumping Nets fall to 0-3 without Durant
Irving also sits in Brooklyn's 106-98 loss to San Antonio
The Nets are trying to remain afloat without Kevin Durant.
They sank again Tuesday night in San Antonio, and Kyrie Irving wasn’t even available to throw them a life preserver.
Irving was a late scratch with calf soreness and the Nets lost their third in a row since Durant went down with a sprained right MCL, dropping a 106-98 decision to the Spurs in front of 13,532 fans at the AT&T Center.
“With Kevin and Ky out, we have a lot of different lineups that we’re not 100 percent familiar with,” Nets sharpshooter Joe Harris said.
Brooklyn (27-16) has already slipped into a tie for third place in the Eastern Conference playoff race after winning 18 of 20 prior to Durant’s injury and climbing just behind NBA-best Boston.
While head coach Jacque Vaughn and his charges insisted they wouldn’t fall into a hole without their Most Valuable Player candidate, they haven’t proven win-worthy since Durant went down clutching his knee in Miami on Jan. 8.
Last season, Durant suffered a left MCL sprain and missed five weeks, watching as his teammates went a dismal 5-18 and dropped from the East’s second seed to No. 7.
Irving, Brooklyn’s other superstar, felt something in his right calf prior to the Nets’ opener of this five-game trip.
Vaughn and the medical staff opted to sit him, then watched as the Spurs (14-31) snapped a five-game losing streak at Brooklyn’s expense.
“Just reported a little tightness,” Vaughn said of Irving. “It’s essentially just day-to-day. We’ll check on him [Wednesday], and hopefully this is short-term.”
Vaughn did seem to think Irving could be ready to go when the Nets play in Phoenix Thursday night.
But not having Durant is starting to present a major problem for a team that flourished during a 12-1 December and appeared on course to seriously contend for the franchise’s first-ever NBA title.
All those goals are still in play, but the Nets have to begin winning without their best player if they hope to capture a high seed and avert competing in a treacherous play-in tournament for the second straight campaign.
T.J. Warren scored 19 points and Seth Curry, starting in place of Irving, added 16 for Brooklyn, which has lost three in a row for the first time since a season-high four-game slide from Oct. 24-29.
Keldon Johnson poured in a career-high 36 points and Jeremy Sochan added 16 for the Spurs, who avenged a 139-103 blowout loss to the Nets at Barclays Center on Jan. 2.
Nic Claxton continued to be a bright spot for the slumping Nets, scoring 15 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking four shots.
Ben Simmons had a triple-double with 10 points, 10 boards and 11 assists, but Brooklyn clearly didn’t have enough to avert a third-quarter collapse. The Spurs won the period, 25-17, and the Nets never recovered.
“You just look at that first- and third-quarter scoring,” noted Vaughn, who saw him team fall behind 27-15 after the first 12 minutes. “We had some good shots, but din’t make them. We have to take care of turnovers and rebounding.”
Brooklyn committed seven of its 21 giveaways in the opening period and got beat on the boards, 54-49, despite the efforts of Claxton and Simmons.
The Nets also went a dismal 3-of-23 from 3-point range.
“We got some good looks, I think early on. … But you can’t rely on (3-point shooting) on a nightly basis,” Vaughn added.
Suddenly, the Nets find themselves exactly where they were last January, slipping in the standings and waiting for Durant to return.
Vaughn continues to stress that he won’t let them feel sorry for themselves.
“We need everybody,” he said. “The three things (I stressed before the game), be professional, consistent and no excuses.
“We’re not looking for any excuses. Everybody got a chance to be a part of it. I don’t care about last year.”
Neither do the Nets.
But thus far, missing Durant is starting to evoke a remembrance of things past.
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