This should have been so easy.
The Detroit Pistons entered Tuesday night with the worst record in the NBA and are the only team the Nets are facing in the next two weeks that has zero chance of making the playoffs.
Instead of taking care of business, the Nets turned in an uninspiring effort with a 122-111 loss that was so disconcerting that it caused coach Steve Nash to ask about the team's aspirations.
"It’s up to the team to decide what kind of team they want to be, what they want to get out of this experience," Nash said after the game. "I think our team needs to challenge themselves and figure who they want to be and what they want to represent together.
"A certain amount comes down to team building and deciding if they want to come together and be a force or if that’s not important. I think right now, they’ve been tested here."
The Nets trailed the final 47 minutes. They allowed the Pistons to shoot 66.7% in the first quarter and compile a 20-point lead in the second. Though they managed to close the deficit to one point, they couldn’t complete the comeback. The result was their third straight loss, their longest losing streak of the season.
The Nets were without Kevin Durant, who will miss one more game because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Kyrie Irving, back from a one-game absence and playing with tape on his injured right index finger, scored 27 points but finished 12 of 28 overall from the field and 2 of 9 from three-point range. James Harden added 24 points and 12 assists, but committed seven turnovers.
Jerami Grant led Detroit with 32 points, which equaled his career high.
"I don’t think we go out every single day of our lives and sacrifice ourselves to be average at anything," Irving said. "We look very average. We have the talent that the ey -test presents that we should be dominating. We have the experience…..And we are dealing with a lot of the reality that we are putting this together on the fly."
Because of COVID protocals, injuries and a personal leave taken by Irving, the Nets Big 3 have played together for only five games this season.
The Pistons entered the game with a record of 5-18. Oddly, that includes wins over Boston, the Clippers, Philadelphia and Phoenix. What’s more, even though Detroit had lost four in a row, in their most recent defeat it had taken the Lakers to double-overtime in Los Angeles before losing, 135-129.
Detroit sure looked like they wanted to collect another elite team pelt early Tuesday night when it scored a season-high 38 points first quarter points against the Nets. The first half featured a 13-0 Detroit run and 40 points in the paint.
While defense has been an ongoing problem for the Nets all season, they tend to play their worst against teams that shouldn’t be that intimidating. Clearly this was something Nash was a little worried about before the game.
"I honestly think the bottom line is motivation and desire," he said. "We seem to be motivated against the better teams. We play with more energy and a sense of desperation. We know we can’t cut corners. I feel like against teams that maybe we take a little lightly, we are willing to cut a corner or two or take a possession off or not."
The Nets will have plenty of chances to feel desperate in the coming two weeks. After hosting the Indiana Pacers Wednesday night, they head on a brutal five-game West Coast trip where they play Golden State, Sacramento, Phoenix, the Lakers and the Clippers.