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Nets not buying into all the hype surrounding 'big' games

Nets guard James Harden dribbles the ball up

Nets guard James Harden dribbles the ball up court against the Orlando Magic in the second half of an NBA basketball game at Barclays Center on Friday, Nov. 19, 2021. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

The last time the Nets were involved in a so-called "statement game" they got drummed out of their own building by NBA-best Golden State, whose defense shut them down. The next opportunity to measure themselves against one of the league’s best teams comes Saturday night at Barclays Center against the Suns, who carried a 14-game winning streak into the game against the Knicks Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

Following the Golden State blowout, the Nets (14-5) responded with four straight wins and have ascended to the top of the Eastern Conference, but after their last win Wednesday night in Boston, superstars James Harden and Kevin Durant downplayed the importance of matching up with the Suns (15-3 before facing the Knicks) as nothing more than media hype.

"It’s 20 games into the season," Harden said. "That’s not no measuring stick. We’re still trying to find ourselves and our identity. We don’t measure — we let y’all, the media, blow it up and talk about it…For us, we focus on ourselves and get better, and that’s all we can control."

Durant seconded that judgment, saying, "From the outside looking in, I understand the records and the narratives around games, but I don’t think this can tell us too much about what may happen down the line."

Be that as it may, it feels as though the loss to Golden State not only told the Nets how much better they had to get but also reinforced the importance of playing strong defense as part of their identity. At Boston, they held Celtics stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown to a combined 28 points on 9 of 31 shooting for the field. They need a similar effort against the Suns’ big 3 of Devin Booker, Chris Paul and DeAndre Ayton.

"We were organized," Nets coach Steve Nash said of the defense against the Celtics after Friday’s practice. "We got back early and tried to take away their first action and showed a lot of support from our help defenders."

Unlike Harden and Durant, Nash didn’t dismiss the idea of the Suns providing a measuring stick of sorts out of hand, but he said the important thing is what it tells the Nets about their process and their progress.

Asked if a win would be a confidence-booster, Nash said, "I think it would help. I think we’re on a journey to get better throughout the course of the year. If we win a measuring stick-game or lose a measuring-stick game, I’m more concerned with continuing to trend in the right direction. Are we getting clearer in our identity and our principles? That’s what I’m looking at, not always win or loss."

Notes & quotes: Bruce Brown (left hamstring tightness) practiced Friday and appears ready to go. "I thought he looked good," Nash said. "Sounds like he’s got a good chance."…Joe Harris (sprained left ankle) will miss his sixth straight game…Nash said Blake Griffin, who sat out in Boston after being replaced by LaMarcus Aldridge as starting center, might continue to sit. "I have spoken to him," Nash said. "For now, we’re experimenting and I’m looking at other things and giving other guys opportunity. He’s been great."

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