For the Nets, no news at Thursday’s NBA trade deadline was good news. They overhauled their roster during free agency last summer, have endured season-long turmoil as a result of long-term injuries to Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert and LeVert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris all heard their names mentioned in trade rumors.
But all was quiet on the Brooklyn waterfront on deadline day, and after going 5-2 in a set of seven straight games against losing teams, the Nets now can focus on a much tougher three-game stretch before the All-Star break. It starts with road games on Saturday against the defending champion Raptors and Monday at the Pacers before wrapping up with a rematch against the Raptors Wednesday at Barclays Center.
Assessing the progress his team made after Wednesday’s 41-point blowout of the Warriors, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson said, “We knew it was an important stretch, and I kept saying we need to get money back from previous missteps. But the challenge now is the Torontos and Indianas of the world. Where are we against those elite teams?
“Despite Kyrie’s injury, Caris coming back and getting into form is huge for us. [DeAndre Jordan] coming back and the fact that we’re more healthy than before, I think that’s huge. Once we get Kyrie back, we’re going to keep getting better and better. I feel good where the team is right now.”
Irving suffered a sprained right knee last Saturday in Washington and was scheduled to wait a week before being re-evaluated, which likely means he won’t play in Toronto. Atkinson said there is no update on his progress. It would not be surprising if he sits out the next three games to before the schedule resumes Feb. 20 in Philadelphia.
But the Nets can take heart from the fact they routed the Suns and Warriors without Irving and made strides on defense, allowing an average of 93 points in those games. Atkinson was especially pleased with a season-high 65 rebounds against the Warriors.
“Our Achilles' heel has been our rebounding,” Atkinson said after watching the Nets outrebound the Warriors by 31. “We’ve got to keep improving there…Our transition defense got back on track these past two games.
“On the other side of it is our turnovers. If we can become better at taking care of the ball, we have enough talent to be a top-10 offense. There’s no doubt about it. I think being healthy and playing stable lineups is going to help tremendously.”
Despite uncertainty surrounding Irving’s return, the Nets have progressed as LeVert has shown signs of rounding into form. “We’ve been playing pretty well as of late,” Harris said. “We’re down a man in Ky, but other guys have stepped up and are starting to play well. Hopefully, we can keep things consistent on the defensive end, and we’ll see where we’re at against some really quality teams in Toronto and Indy.”
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The Nets have one open roster spot. Former Net Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot is a candidate, but general manager Sean Marks likely will take time to evaluate all the players placed on waivers since the deadline.