The 14-12 Nets are on a three-game losing streak that marks their worst stretch of the young season. They have dropped to fourth in the Eastern Conference, and they were facing the fifth-place Pacers (12-12) on Wednesday night at Barclays Center.
It was the second night of a back-to-back set coming off their road loss to the lowly Pistons in Detroit. The Nets once again were without Kevin Durant, who still was in quarantine after contacting a person who tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. So they figured to come up short in the frontcourt once again without Durant.
Kyrie Irving led the Nets with 27 points against the Pistons, but after losing to a 6-18 team, he said, "We look very average. And we have the talent that the eye test presents that we should be dominating . . . We’re dealing with a lot of the reality that we’re putting this thing together on the fly. We are the team that the NBA put the most games on [in January]. We’re the team that gets someone [Kevin Durant] taken out during the games, during COVID.
"We’re the team that has to deal with the refs, we’re the team that is literally battling against so many odds at this point it’s not even a reason to comment on. As a warrior that I am and the energy that I have alongside my teammates, we just have to turn that corner. We haven’t done that yet, but we will. I’m telling you the league’s going to be on notice when that happens. So just got to take it day by day."
If the Nets want to "turn the corner," they were presented with a great challenge against the Pacers. Indiana arrived at Barclays Center with a .500 record, but it is an excellent team led by Damontas Sabonis and Malcolm Brogdon.
The Nets have broken down on defense, allowing 11 of their past 12 opponents to score at least 120 points. It’s anybody’s guess when that trend will change.
Coach Steve Nash called upon his players to show some pride in their work. "Steve is right," Irving said. "It takes pride, it takes effort. It takes a will night to night to get up for the guys you’re playing with. We all know when we play against the best, you’re going to see a great game because it’s easy to get up for those things. But the consistency of a lot of great teams that have gone on to win championships is they do it on the road, they do it at home, they do it against the good teams and they do it against the average teams.
"So until we can develop that goal-oriented mindset that we want to continue to be great every single night . . . then, we’ll just look like great guys that look good on paper."
So what will the Nets look like in the long term? It starts with short-term results. Obviously, they did not have Durant against the Pistons, and they missed his defensive prowess as much as his frontcourt scoring. In the long run, the Nets can’t succeed at a championship level until they learn to play adequate defense.
As Nash said, "You come to the gym, you’ve got to want to fight with our teammates and make it extremely hard on the other team, make them miserable. And we didn’t do that [in Detroit]. We did it in stretches, we proved we can do it. But we’ve got a lot to clean up.
"The number one thing is just that attitude and that competition level. Those are things that you can’t draw up, those are things you can’t practice. You just have to bring it. And I didn’t feel that for 48 minutes."