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Nets face challenge of containing Luka Doncic in road trip opener in Dallas

Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks reacts during

Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks reacts during the second half of a game against the LA Clippers at Staples Center on November 23, 2021. Credit: Getty Images/Sean M. Haffey

DALLAS — Although the Mavericks were only 11-11 heading into their game against the Nets Tuesday night at American Airlines Center, they figured to be one of the toughest outs the Nets have faced because of the presence of dynamic point guard Luka Doncic, who came in averaging 25.4 points, 8.1 rebounds and 8.5 assists.

Doncic had plenty of support from forward Kristaps Porzingis, who was averaging 19.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 1.7 blocks and has been a Nets-killer since his days with the Knicks, as well as guards Jalen Brunson and Tim Hardaway Jr., both of whom were scoring 14.7 points per game.

Describing the challenge Doncic represents, Nets defensive specialist DeAndre’ Bembry said, "Luka is one of the more efficient scorers for sure. My job is just to make it difficult on these guys one-on-one — make him miss a few shots, try to get in his head."

There was a time when the most entertaining matchup between these two teams would have been between the two head coaches, Hall of Fame point guards Steve Nash of the Nets and Jason Kidd of the Mavs.

Asked what he recalled about matching wits with Kidd in the past, Nash said, "I can’t remember. That’s 25 years ago, but we have a good relationship and friendship dating back to our college days. Obviously, we coached against each other with him being on the Lakers last year. I just have a lot of respect for him and his career, and getting a chance to play with him early in my career [with the Suns] was important. I’m glad he’s got his own team and is in the position he’s in."

The Nets’ game at Dallas marked the beginning of a week-long four-game trip that continues with a back-to-back game Wednesday in Houston, then a visit to Atlanta and Trae Young on Friday followed by a stop in Detroit on Sunday before heading home. No doubt, the Nets were hoping to approximate the success they achieved on a 5-1 trip early in the season.

Their 8-2 road record is the best in the NBA. Asked about the key to that success, Nash said, "I think just having a great will and connectivity and toughness. You go on the road and there is a little bit of adversity — opposing fans and the comfort the home team has on their floor. You’ve got to be willing to weather that and come out and play sharp and be aggressive and have no fear. Our team has done that a lot this year, and we’ve just got to keep growing and building."

Nash acknowledged that the Nets are a dramatically different team than last season when they had Kyrie Irving to blend in with Kevin Durant and James Harden to form one of the best offensive teams in league history. But now they don’t have Irving, who has refused to comply with the New York City vaccine mandate and has been ruled out by the organization unless he is eligible to play in all games, not just road games.

As a result, the Nets’ identity has emphasized more of a commitment to defense. After Monday’s practice, Nash was asked if he anticipates any change in Irving’s status or if the Nets expect to move ahead without him.

"We just focus on our group and getting better every single day, and if we get the gift of his return, we’ll be ecstatic," Nash said. "But we can’t count on it.

"We can’t wait for him. Our group’s been awesome this year. It’s been great to see them defend and try to find some identity offensively with a whole group of new players."

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