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Season opener showed that the Nets need time to develop chemistry

Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets reacts to

Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets reacts to being hit in the eye during the season opener against the Milwaukee Bucks at the Fiserv Forum on October 19, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Stacy Revere

The 76ers were famous for describing the beginning stages of their rebuilding project a few years ago as "The Process," in capital letters. As fate would have it, the 76ers are Game No. 2 on the Nets’ schedule on Friday in Philadelphia as they continue their own "Process" of trying to build a championship team this season.

The Nets are in what could be described as the final stages because they have two of the NBA’s top 75 all-time players in Kevin Durant and James Harden and have sprinkled multiple former All-Stars around them in Blake Griffin, LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap. Plus they have two-time three-point percentage champion Joe Harris and veteran super sub Patty Mills.

So talent and experience aren’t a question. But the Nets return only eight players from last season’s injury-wracked team, including Aldridge, who played a mere five games before temporarily retiring with a heart condition. As Tuesday’s season-opening 127-104 loss to the defending NBA champion Bucks in Milwaukee indicated, the Nets are going to need lots of time to build chemistry with a whole new group of players no matter how talented.

"It is one game out of 82 when you look at it that way," said Durant, who scored 32 points and had 11 rebounds but faulted the Nets for getting 21 fewer shots than the Bucks. "We were climbing uphill the whole game [after trailing by 19 in the opening quarter]. We had good spurts, cut it to [five] a few times, but we couldn’t get over the hump because they had more possessions than us. They kept the ball in their hands, so it was a possession game for us."

In the past, coach Steve Nash has preferred to play small, but the Nets have so many quality veteran big men that he went with a bigger lineup against the Bucks, featuring Nic Claxton at center, Griffin and Durant at forwards and Harden and Harris at the guards. Aldridge, Millsap, Mills and guard Jevon Carter played prominent roles off the bench and veteran big man James Johnson worked into the mix.

As a result, the Nets lacked their usual pace on offense, and they failed to make up for it with improved defense and rebounding. The Bucks clearly were more physical.

"We took a look at big lineups," Nash said. "We don’t want to overreact. Obviously, it wasn’t great tonight, but we just weren’t great. We have a lot of guys that are new to each other, trying to figure it out. This is going to be a process for us that we just have to stick to."

Durant was encouraged by how Harden looked, considering he missed the final month of last regular season and suffered a recurrence of his hamstring injury in the first minute of Game 1 against the Bucks before playing the final three games on one leg.

"It’s been a while since he’s been on the court feeling like himself again," Durant said of Harden. "LaMarcus, too. I think everybody’s rhythm will get better as time goes on and we get more comfortable around each other. I’m very excited, and I’m looking forward to the next game to see how we can build off this and get better."

If nothing else, Harden said Game No. 1 against the Bucks made it clear how much the Nets must improve to contend for a title.

"Obviously, they’re defending champions," Harden said. "So we know what level we have to get to, and we’ll get to that level. This [loss] might have even made us more excited about the season just because we know there’s a level we’ve got to get to, and we’re not even close."

New York Sports