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Nets failing at tough tests from playoff-bound teams

Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen of the Nets

Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen of the Nets react during the second half against the Philadelphia 76ers at Barclays Center on Monday, Jan. 20, 2020. Credit: Jim McIsaac

From the time the Nets signed mega-free agents Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, they understood this would be a “bridge season,” spanning time between signing Durant and his recovery from right Achilles tendon surgery, which is expected to keep him out the entire season.

But it’s a safe bet that, with the addition of such quality veteran free agents as DeAndre Jordan, Garrett Temple, Taurean Prince and Wilson Chandler to their returning core of Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris, Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs, they expected far better than the 18-24 team that currently occupies the eighth playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.

Nets spirits rose recently when they stopped a seven-game losing streak with wins over a top Miami team and lowly Atlanta before heading into a test against five straight elite teams. But the Nets lost the first four and are 2-11 in their past 13 before facing the Western Conference-leading Lakers Thursday night at Barclays Center.

“It’s been a huge test for us,” Allen said after the Nets blew a fourth-quarter lead against the 76ers for the second time in three games on Monday. “And Thursday, we play the Lakers. It’s going to be another test. This is where we want to be. We want to be playing the top teams, so this is a test.”

For the moment, it is a test the Nets are failing miserably. One major cause is the injuries that have led to ever-changing lineups and playing rotations. But even when Irving and LeVert returned from long-term injuries, it didn’t lead to improved play. The Nets now are 5-17 against opponents currently in playoff position while going 13-7 against non-playoff teams.

Asked if the struggle has become mental after the Monday meltdown against Philadelphia, Dinwiddie said, “We really don’t have time for mental struggles. Obviously, our season’s been up and down with injuries, lineups and all that stuff. We’ve got to come together as a group. Our focus can’t be external; it’s got to be internal.

“Obviously, getting healthy of course, but just figuring out and gaining chemistry with our own units, our own lineups. Once we have ourselves down, then we can impose our will on other teams.”

LeVert is back after missing 24 games. But after Irving returned from a 26-game absence to play four games, he sat out on Monday with hamstring tightness. If he is in and out, that might lead to more uncertainty.

“It’s tough because . . . we’re not on the same page together — which it would be hard to be because everybody’s been out and lineups change every three games,” Dinwiddie said. “I feel like we haven’t had one nine-man rotation for three straight games all season. It’s tough.”

Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said it’s a matter of keeping faith by players, coaches and the organization and to keep battling. “It will turn,” Atkinson predicted. “We knew this was going to be a tough stretch. It’s too bad we couldn’t steal one. We had opportunities to steal one. We’re just not getting over the hump. We’ve been doing a lot of good things, but we’re not finishing it like we need to.”

New York Sports