The Nets' James Johnson gets defensive pressure from Marcus Smart...

The Nets' James Johnson gets defensive pressure from Marcus Smart of the Celtics in the first quarter at Barclays Center on Tuesday. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Is this rock bottom? The Nets can only hope.

The severely undermanned Nets watched Boston score 28 of the game’s first 30 points on Tuesday night at Barclays Center and went on to lose, 126-91, for their ninth consecutive defeat.

Playing without the injured Kevin Durant and James Harden and with the unvaccinated Kyrie Irving ineligible because of New York City’s COVID-19 rules, it’s worth repeating that the Nets fell behind an unfathomable 28-2.

The Nets fell to 0-4 over the last two seasons when none of the Big 3 played. The starting lineup was Patty Mills, Bruce Brown, DeAndre’ Bembry, Kessler Edwards and Blake Griffin.

That group totaled 21 points, the same amount as the Nets' high-point man Jevon Carter, who hit seven three-pointers.

Harden, who watched from the bench, missed his third straight game with a left hamstring injury. He has been the subject of relentless trade rumors in the ramp up to Thursday’s deadline. He was not on the bench for the previous two games.

Coach Steve Nash reiterated that not only does he expect Harden to stay put, but he also doesn’t think the Nets will make any moves.

"Honestly, I think we’ll be exactly the same," Nash said. "I think the chances of trades or deals happening before the deadline are so slim, especially for our group."

At this point, Nash is left to cheer on his players like a small college coach going up against Duke or North Carolina in one of those early-season games that are designed to be wipeouts. It’s all he can do until -- and if -- he gets his whole roster back.

"These guys stayed together," he said. "We went down 28-2 on national TV and they didn't drop their heads. So that shows that our group is growing closer, not pulling apart. And that's the most difficult thing to do when you're going through a period like this. So I'm really proud of the guys and the way they've pushed and held each other up and continue to compete all the way into the final whistle."

The Nets (29-25) missed their first eight shots and fell behind 14-0. Nash called a timeout and Griffin hit a jumper for the Nets’ first points.

The Celtics (31-25), who moved past the Nets into seventh in the Eastern Conference with their sixth straight win, scored the next 14 points. It was 28-2 when Nash called another timeout.

When play resumed, James Johnson of the Nets got to the line – and missed both free throws. But Johnson followed with a lefthanded layup and the Nets went on an 11-0 run to make it 28-13 and force the Celtics to call time.

The first quarter ended with Boston leading 35-16. The Nets actually closed the deficit to 13 in the second quarter before it ballooned back to 28. Boston led 69-43 at the half and the second half was little more than a scrimmage. Boston’s largest lead was the final margin – 35 points.

Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart led the Celtics with 22 points apiece.

Even though they are reeling, the Nets don’t want Harden to rush back. There was a report on Tuesday morning that said Harden participated in the morning shootaround. But Nash threw cold water on that idea.

"He didn’t really go through shootaround," Nash said. "He was here supporting his teammates. I think he's still doing his strengthening. He'll do core work. But I think taking the wheels off and exploding is still something that he wants to cover. When he shoots, he looks like James, but as far as changing ends and accelerating and all that stuff, I think it's conservative right now to continue to regain that strength.."

Snarky Twitter commenters would say it’s nice of the Nets to keep Harden relatively healthy for the Philadelphia 76ers, who are rumored to be interested in acquiring him before the deadline in a deal that would involve holdout guard Ben Simmons.

Mills named to three-point contest. Mills will compete in the All-Star Game three-point competition on Feb. 19 in Cleveland.

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