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Steve Nash experiments and finds good lineup combination for Nets

Head coach Steve Nash of the Nets looks

Head coach Steve Nash of the Nets looks on against the Milwaukee Bucks at Barclays Center on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021. Credit: Jim McIsaac

That sound you heard emanating from Wells Fargo Center Friday night in Philadelphia was a massive sigh of relief by the Nets after they came from 10 down in the final five minutes to pull out a narrow win with a closing 16-1 run in which they forced the 76ers to miss their final nine field-goal attempts.

Following their opening blowout loss to the defending NBA champion Bucks in Milwaukee, a second straight poor showing would have elevated the Nets’ anxiety level significantly as they adjust to life without Kyrie Irving and blend in 10 new faces. Going into their home opener against the Hornets Sunday afternoon at Barclays Center with a 1-1 record feels a lot less stressful than if the Nets were 0-2.

For three quarters the game in Philadelphia had a similar feel to the one in Milwaukee after falling into an early hole, but the Nets found their resolve, especially at the defensive end.

"We kept preaching throughout the game that we’ve got to get over the hump," James Harden said. "At one point, we got [the deficit] to two, and they got it back up to double-digits. That entire fourth quarter, I think we just turned it to another level.

"It was their home opener, so we knew there was going to be a lot of emotion in here . . . We didn’t play well in our first game, so we wanted to bounce back and put it together for four quarters and I think we did that."

With a roster led by superstars Kevin Durant, who had a triple-double against the 76ers, and Harden plus veteran former All-Stars LaMarcus Aldridge, Blake Griffin and Paul Millsap, the Nets are among the favorites to win the NBA title. But coach Steve Nash has preached patience while they adjust to new faces and a lineup that includes more talented big men.

Certainly, the absence of Irving, who is unvaccinated in violation of the New York City COVID-19 mandate and has been told he cannot rejoin the team until he is eligible for all games, has increased the pressure on Durant and Harden.

"We lost a big piece," Nash said of Irving. "It’s not just the new pieces, it’s the void that we are used to playing with. It is a lot for us to take in at this moment in time, but hopefully in the coming weeks, we start to clear some of the debris and figure out how we can best play together."

Nash is experimenting with a variety of lineups to find a comfort level, but he hit on a great combination down the stretch of the fourth quarter, bringing Aldridge, Patty Mills and Jevon Carter off the bench to team with Durant and Harden. Aldridge scored 13 of his 23 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the fourth, including the go-ahead three-point play.

"It just came naturally," said Aldridge, who played five games for the Nets last season before temporarily retiring with a heart condition. "I’d be lying if I said I felt like I was going to do what I did. We talked pregame about my pick-and-popping, and then James found me late for the and-one."

All of his points came from the mid-range in the final period, but Aldridge noted he is just short of 20,000 career points. "In this day and age, the mid-range is considered a bad shot, but I’ve got 19,000-some points off the mid-range. So if you tell me it’s a bad shot, I don’t believe you."

Nash is a proponent of the modern offense that values three-pointers and layups over mid-range shots, but he must adjust to the talents of his new roster and go with what works.

"While we are not trying to live in the mid-range, obviously, Kevin is a unique talent who is exceptional at the mid-range and LaMarcus is excellent there as well," Nash said. "If we get open looks, they are open looks. You can’t pass them up because our mathematicians are going to yell at us after the game. We’ve got to take some of those, and you’ve got to make them if you want to beat good teams."

The Nets did that in Philadelphia to right their ship as they begin a season-long six-game homestand that gives them a chance to get their season off to a fast start.

New York Sports