Two games, two blowout victories and two awesome stat lines each for Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant.
On the one hand, you could say the Nets are exactly what they were expected to be with those two superstars in the fold. On the other hand, you could say they put an end to 18 months of suspense by answering a lot of questions in their opening two wins at home over Golden State and at Boston.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens gave his team credit for playing much better on Christmas Day than they did in a blowout preseason loss to the Nets, but even his bottom line was unchanged. "In the start of the fourth, they poured it on," Stevens said. "That’s the thing: They’re very capable of pouring it on. I think it’s the deepest team in the NBA, and certainly in the conversation for the best."
Obviously, it starts with Irving and Durant. Irving is averaging 31.5 points, shooting 62.2% from the field and 55.5% from three-point range, along with 100% at the foul line, 5.0 rebounds, 6.0 assists and a plus-31.5 points when he’s on the floor. Durant is nearly as good with 25.5 points per game, shooting 50.0% from the field, 66.7% from three-point range and 93.8% at the foul line to go with 4.5 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 2.5 steals and plus-26.5 points.
Joe Harris said Irving and Durant have set the example with their work ethic right from the start of the Nets’ abbreviated training camp.
"Pretty much the moment they got here, this is the talent they’ve displayed, and even now, late in their careers, they continue to get better," Harris said. "I think it’s a testament really to the work they put in every day. These guys are superstar players. They work as hard as anybody I’ve been around, and they kind of carry the torch for the rest of the team in that way."
Starting Sunday in Charlotte with the first game of a back-to-back set that includes a home game against Memphis on Monday, the Nets enter a stretch in which they play the next 35 games of their announced schedule in a span of just 67 days before a break in early March. It’s a relentless stretch that will require some load management, meaning planned rest for Durant and Irving in particular.
Durant was uncertain of the plan for his first back-to-back set, but he said: "Obviously, I want to play as much as I can, but I definitely want to trust in the training staff and the organization to do what’s best and consult with them on it as well. So we’ll see, but I plan on playing the next game."
The Memphis game begins a stretch when the Nets play 10 of 12 games at Barclays Center, and one of the two road games just involves a short jaunt across the East River to face the Knicks at Madison Square Garden. So the schedule itself offers the possibility to build on the momentum the Nets have established.
First-year coach Steve Nash said the Nets will rely on walk-throughs and video sessions rather than regular formal practices to help them handle the wear and tear of the schedule, but he’s confident in what they achieved even in a shortened training camp.
"That competition level, the depth has promoted that competition, and it’s raised the level every day and they’ve brought it," Nash said. "I think that’s put us in a position where we’re able to compete out of the gates, but I also see a lot of room for improvement on both sides of the ball. We are very formative still, and we have to stick with it because other teams are going to get better, as well."
Still, the Nets have a formidable foundation with Irving, Durant, their deep supporting cast and a defense that has been exceptional in the first two games.
Irving is trying to keep the early optimism in perspective. "It’s two games," Irving said. "Let’s get ready for Charlotte. Let’s go do this thing again. Let’s have some fun.
"We don’t want to rush this. I know what history looks like when you’re part of it, and I don’t want to take any day for granted. I’m grateful to share this journey with these guys."