Nets are new to the business of being considered one of the premier teams in the NBA now that they have a healthy pair of superstars on their roster in Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
Now, they must learn to expect everybody’s best shot, and they certainly weren’t prepared to take it on the chin from the previously winless Hornets, who led by 16 points in the fourth quarter and held on for a 106-104 victory Sunday night in Charlotte.
The Nets put together a late 21-7 run that included six points from Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot and five each from Durant and Irving to pull within 104-102 on a three-pointer by TLC with 40.4 seconds left to play.
The Nets had a chance to tie the game with barely seven seconds left, but Durant missed a jumper on the right baseline before Terry Rozier sealed it for the Hornets with a pair of foul shots with 5.3 seconds left.
"I don’t think we got a sense of urgency," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "I think we were little passive . . . And we talked about it before that teams are going to give us their best shot. We’re going to have a target on our back and we have to rise to the occasion. You think you may be a better team, but you’re going to get a team that’s much better because they see the numbers and the names on the back of the jersey and they’re going to rise to the occasion."
Durant topped the Nets (2-1) with 29 points, Irving added 25, Joe Harris had 13 and Luwawu-Cabarrot had all of his 11 points in the fourth quarter. But the Nets lost Spencer Dinwiddie with what was described as a right knee strain in the third period. He will be evaluated Monday before the Nets play the second game of a back-to-back set against the Grizzlies at Barclays Center.
Gordon Hayward led the Hornets (1-2) with 28 points, and Rozier added 19. The Hornets forced the Nets to commit 19 turnovers leading to 23 points, and they also outscored the Nets in the paint by a whopping 64-24 margin.
Through their first two games, the Nets had the No. 1 defensive rating in the league, but the defensive intensity they showed in their two opening blowout wins was absent against the Hornets.
Describing the slow start, Durant said, "Well, we turned the ball over a lot. They outrebounded us. I only had three rebounds. I’ve got to be better at helping the bigs out rebounding. I think that would have definitely turned the tide in the game if I was down there mixing it up a little bit more. But we turned the ball over 19 times, and they scored 23 points off it. That’s pretty much the game."
The Hornets were coming off two opening losses, and they were on the second night of a back-to-back set. But they took control with a 35-point third quarter and pushed their lead to 97-81 early in the final period before the Nets made their belated comeback attempt.
Speaking of his potential tying shot, Durant said, "I thought it was going in. It looked good when it left my hands. It was a little right . . . but I liked the shot."
Jarrett Allen, who played well off the bench with eight points and a team-high 14 rebounds said the Nets will have to learn what it’s like to be at the top of the pyramid with other teams trying to knock them off.
"From being a Net all my life, it’s definitely something I’m going to have to get used to," he said. "We always were the underdogs fighting and looking at other people as targets, and now, the roles are reversed."