Coming off a huge win over the Clippers, who were the top team in the Western Conference at the time, the Nets have lost two straight games to the Raptors and the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers. They won’t have Kevin Durant for the next two games Tuesday in Detroit and home on Wednesday against Indiana because of medical protocols, and Kyrie Irving’s status is uncertain because of a finger injury.
So their loss to the 76ers on Saturday was not a good omen for the playoffs even though the Nets were missing two of their Big 3. They committed the same turnovers that have hurt them the entire season and allowed the 76ers to dominate points in the paint, 62-32, and outscore them on second-chance points, 22-9.
"Hopefully it’s an experience that affords us something," coach Steve Nash said. "I don’t really look at it in those terms. I think that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves. For us, especially this season where we have so much work to do and we need time, we’ve really got to focus on ourselves and try to improve and figure out who we are, where we’re going and how we’re going to get there. If we can stick to that, we’ll be a good team come playoff time regardless of some of these games earlier."
The Nets (14-11) are more than a third of the way through the 72-game season. Their loss in Philadelphia marked the first game of a stretch in which they will play seven of eight games on the road. So things aren’t getting any easier.
They acquired James Harden 12 games ago. He sat out one of those games and has gone 7-4 with them. But Durant and Irving have been in and out of the lineup. Durant is 6-3 with Harden and Irving is 5-4. When the three have played in the same game, the Nets are 4-2. The next time they should have all three together will be Saturday at Golden State.
The circumstances of a season in which the Nets must observe medical protocols related to the COVID-19 pandemic are unprecedented and out of their control. They must learn about each other on the fly.
"The good news is that we’ve got months ahead of us, but the bad news is that it’s not a normal year," Nash said. "There’s a lot going on, a lot of exterior factors and not a lot of time. We’ll get back at it Monday, and we’ll just keep learning.
"We’ve got to learn on practice days, we’ve got to learn on game days, we’ve got to learn from our games themselves. We’ve just got to be creative, be diligent with getting those little doses of instruction even though there’s not a lot of time for it."
If there was one positive from the loss in Philadelphia, it was that the Nets got a strong output from their bench, which outscored the 76ers’ bench 39-32.
Describing the importance of bench play when Durant and Irving are missing, Harden said, "I think especially in the postseason, anybody can change a series. Any one possession, any player can change an entire series in a postseason. So we want to build confidence . . . in each and every individual guy. That way, when it’s postseason, when guys are thrown in, we know what to expect. Hopefully in a learning experience, we can get some wins out of it."
That didn’t happen in Philadelphia, but there is a long way to go for the Nets, especially when their three superstars begin to play together on a regular basis.