At 24-13, the Nets remain a half-game behind the 76ers for first place in the Eastern Conference as they go to the All-Star break. They have won 10 of their past 11 games, making them the hottest team in the NBA.
Now here’s the beauty of where things stand for the Nets: Kevin Durant sat out 10 of the past 11 games and has played only 18 of their 37 games in the first half, so imagine the potential for even greater success when he returns from a hamstring strain after the break.
The Nets capped the first half with a 2-0 Texas trip in which James Harden recorded his seventh and eighth triple-double performances in 23 games since being acquired from the Rockets in a mid-January trade. He couldn’t be happier.
"It means a lot," Harden said of the strong first-half finish and the momentum the Nets have built despite constantly changing lineups. "It shows a lot about this team. We’ve had guys in and out of the lineup, [but] next man up. Guys are ready to come in and play big minutes and contribute to the team.
"I think we’re molding it and building everybody’s confidence up to where you’re ready when your name is called to contribute. It’s great. I’m excited for our full team to be healthy and keep this thing going."
First-time coach Steve Nash has had the benefit of the Big 3 — Harden, Durant and Kyrie Irving — playing together for just seven games, and he had to blend Harden into the mix and adjust to dozens of lineup changes caused by injuries and COVID-19 protocols.
But ever since a terrible loss in Detroit that prompted Nash to call out his players, things have come together in remarkable fashion, with much-improved defense fueling the league’s best offense.
"Most importantly, we’re building a team," Nash said after blowing out the Rockets, 132-114, on Wednesday. "We’re defining roles and identity at both ends, the team is bonding, and there’s a great environment and atmosphere forming. So that’s the review of the first half for me in a nutshell.
"I think we definitely have to continually fight for improvement, invest in each other and, defensively, play like underdogs. That’s something that’s going to take us a long way."
One benefit from the adversity the Nets have faced because of injuries is that it freed up playing time to develop role players. Guard Bruce Brown has been a revelation, basically playing inside like a center and developing his offense around the rim while also contributing great defense.
In the past week, 6-11 Nic Claxton rejoined the lineup after a prolonged recovery from knee tendinopathy. He averaged 16.5 points in limited time in the past two games and played great defense.
"He’s a long, athletic, modern five who can dribble, pass, finish around the rim, and he can defend on the perimeter or inside," Nash said. "We see the potential. If he stays the course and keeps his head down, he’s going to be a really good player."
One of many on the Nets’ roster with the potential to contribute to a legitimate NBA title contender.