No matter how many injuries they have suffered or how tough their schedule has been, the Nets have looked for solutions, not excuses, all season.
But at a time when they are shorthanded and have lost back-to-back games for the first time in five weeks, whom does the schedule deliver to the Nets’ doorstep Monday night at Barclays Center?
The 38-13 Milwaukee Bucks, who have the best record in the NBA and multiple All-Stars in Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton.
The Nets (28-26) will be playing their fifth game in eight nights and have lost three of their past four. That coincides with the loss of Spencer Dinwiddie, who has missed the past five games with a right thumb injury that required surgery. His absence was especially noticeable during the Nets’ loss in Orlando on Saturday as they had just three double-figure scorers.
Dinwiddie was averaging 17.2 points and combining with All-Star point guard D’Angelo Russell to keep the Nets’ offense operating at high efficiency. The Nets are averaging 111.4 points, but that has dropped to 107.6 without Dinwiddie and 103.0 in the last three losses.
“The loss of Dinwiddie, when we lose a player like that, you’re going to feel it,” said Russell, who scored 25 points against the Magic but was the only starter with more than six points. “You’re going to force guys to step up and have to do things they’re not used to doing. Any time you have a player of that caliber going down, you’re going to miss him.”
Dinwiddie and Russell stepped up their production after Caris LeVert suffered a dislocated ankle Nov. 12. Now more might be demanded of Joe Harris, who ranks third in the NBA in three-point percentage.
Asked about Dinwiddie’s loss, Harris said: “You lose a player of that caliber, obviously, your team is hurting a little bit. And we’re banged up aside from Spencer, too. It gives other people opportunities to step up and play, but at the same time, you miss those [injured] guys and it affects the rhythm offensively.”
Harris was referring to injuries that have sidelined Allen Crabbe and Jared Dudley for a considerable time. One player who has seized his opportunity is rookie Rodions Kurucs, who is averaging 9.2 points. He has slowed in the past five games, though, averaging 6.6 points and shooting 26.5 percent. Kurucs has made only two of his past 22 three-point attempts over nine games.
“He’s struggling,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “We love him. He’s a big part of what we do. He’s got to fight through it. He’s hitting the rookie wall a little bit.”
With all of their injuries, the Nets’ whole offense might have hit a wall.
“We all miss Spencer,” center Jarrett Allen said. “Hopefully he’s healing right, but I think we just have to figure out how to do it without him.”