The Nets insist they are not looking over their shoulders and are not waiting for their injured players to return and rescue them. Still, coach Kenny Atkinson said Monday that it’s “good timing” that Caris LeVert and Allen Crabbe will practice Tuesday with the Long Island Nets.
That didn’t help the undermanned Nets on Monday night against the Bucks, the team with the best record in the NBA. In front of a Barclays Center crowd that included former President Bill Clinton, the Nets suffered their third loss in a row, 113-94.
The Bucks (39-13), who were paced by the omnipresent Giannis Antetokounmpo (30 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists, three blocks), have won 10 of 11.
Malcolm Brogdon added 16 points and Eric Bledsoe scored 15 for Milwaukee.
The Nets (28-27), who have lost four of five, again were without LeVert, Crabbe, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jared Dudley. They added a newcomer to the injured list in Joe Harris, who was out with a right hip injury.
So the Nets again dug into their depth. Shabazz Napier started in place of Harris and was the Nets’ second-leading scorer with 15 points. D’Angelo Russell had 18. Theo Pinson (10 points) was the only other Net in double figures.
The Nets took 42 three-pointers and missed 37 of them. “It’s tough to go 5-for-42 from three,” Atkinson said. “We have to figure out how to make the defense pay for crowding the paint.”
The absences are taking a toll on the scoreboard and in the standings.
Asked how much it would help to have LeVert and/or Crabbe back, Russell said: “A lot. A lot.” Then he added: “A lot.”
It also would help if the Nets could hit some shots. They were 6-for-25 (24 percent) in the first quarter and missed all 10 of their three-point attempts. The Bucks didn’t shoot much better (7-for-26) but took a 23-17 lead.
The Bucks used a 15-2 run early in the second quarter to go up by as much as 16. The Nets’ poor shooting continued — 24.4 percent through two quarters — but they still got the deficit back under double digits and trailed 51-42 going into halftime.
Antetokounmpo, who had 20 points in the half, nearly added two more when he went end-to-end for a gorgeous swooping layup — but it was just after the buzzer and was waved off.
It didn’t matter. The Bucks took total control in the third quarter, going up by as much as 25 points, and went into the fourth with an 87-64 advantage. The Nets still were shooting only 28.4 percent and had gone 3-for-31 from three-point range.
In the fourth, the Nets shot 42.9 percent, which made their overall percentage of 32.4 seem not as bad as it was when the game was still a contest.
“They are really tough to score on,” Atkinson said. “They have really good rim protection and I thought their defense was outstanding. We struggled to shoot and had trouble scoring the ball. Big credit to their defense. It’s a part of the NBA. I think we are going through a tough stretch.”
So the Nets will turn their eyes to the G League practice court, where LeVert and Crabbe will try to work their way back into the lineup.
Said Jarrett Allen: “Some positive news definitely would be great. A lot of this year has been negative, negative. Somebody getting hurt. Somebody having to sit out. So some positive news won’t hurt.”
Creek gets another deal. The Nets signed forward Mitch Creek to a second 10-day contract. The Australian had eight points, five rebounds and four assists in 15 minutes Monday in his fourth game with the team.