Losing decisively to the defending NBA champion Raptors in their final preseason game took some wind out of the Nets’ sails approaching their opener against the Timberwolves Wednesday night at Barclays Center. It was their first full game with All-Star Kyrie Irving at point guard, and because he has been slowed by facial injuries, it’s obvious the adjustment will last into the regular season.
With five of the first seven games at home, it’s important for Irving to get up to speed quickly. “First, it’s him getting comfortable not playing with the mask, getting his wind and the third one is getting the chemistry,” Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said after Sunday’s practice.
“We’re going to have to do it a little bit on the fly now. We scrimmaged more today than we would on a normal day just to get him more reps with the other guys.”
Atkinson experimented with a three-guard lineup featuring Irving, Caris LeVert and backup point guard Spencer Dinwiddie because that trio is part of a potential finishing lineup. It didn’t go well. The Raptors ended their 46-point second quarter on a 16-5 run against that group.
“You want your best players on the floor, and those guys are in our best five,” Atkinson said. “Finding a way to keep them on the floor, we’re going to have to look at the game and how it’s going and the matchups a little bit, but we need to keep looking at it.”
Dinwiddie blamed their struggles on a lack of practice together. “We’re going to adjust as it goes,” Dinwiddie said. “It’s going to be something that continues to evolve . . . I don’t really even play with Caris much. My job is just to help try to assimilate as easily and effectively and quickly as possible. We’ll get better. We’re all really talented.”
Indeed, even with All-Star forward Kevin Durant projected to miss the entire season to recover from Achilles tendon surgery, the Nets are one of the deepest teams in the Eastern Conference. “Oh man, just knowing the talent level is extremely high, it’s just exciting,” Dinwiddie said. “It just is.
“Especially when you’re talking about bringing either the best or second-best scorer of all-time — him [Durant] and Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] — back eventually and him being in the starting lineup. Then whoever that pushes down, our second unit will get that much stronger. I mean, it is one of the deepest teams in the league.”
Asked if that means Dinwiddie believes Durant will return this season, Dinwiddie waved off the question. “Stop it,” Dinwiddie said with a smile. “I ain’t getting into none of that conversation. I don’t know how he personally feels, I don’t know what our performance staff is saying. Like my pay grade is down here, and them conversations are way up here. I’m not even close. I’m like three notches below those conversations.”
Hey, the Nets can dream.
Notes & quotes: Dinwiddie said he has another “good faith” meeting on Monday with NBA officials to discuss his plan to use his three-year deal worth $34 million to fund a secured digital investment.