Thanks to a postponement of their scheduled game Dec. 23 at Portland, the Nets were victimized by the NBA’s decision to make up the game by scheduling a rare coast-to-coast back-to-back game against the Trail Blazers on Monday night at Moda Center. One day after grabbing an overtime win at home over the Spurs, the Nets flew cross-country for the chance to suffer a 114-108 loss in Portland.
They came in with an NBA-best 14-3 road record, but the Nets saw their five-game road winning streak snapped.
"Guys were gassed," coach Steve Nash said. "There were some good stretches, but overall, I don’t think we had the juice to follow through and finish the job enough. I don’t know if anyone’s ever had a six-hour flight between games, so I get it, I understand.
"They’re trying to dig deep late. I know our guys were tired after yesterday’s overtime game. I thought they had a good effort. We had the lead in the second half and just couldn’t sustain the effort. They made big shots and we didn’t."
The Nets blew a nine-point third-quarter lead and went to the final period trailing by six. They cut their deficit to two points a couple of times but could not sustain any momentum. A basket by Day’Ron Sharpe cut the Nets’ deficit to 104-100 with 2:34 left, but the Blazers pushed it back to nine points and the Nets ran out of time. In the final 2:15, the Blazers got a big three-pointer from Robert Covington followed by two more from Ben McLemore to end any thoughts of a Nets comeback.
As far as Kevin Durant was concerned, the cross-country trip was not the reason the Nets lost. "It’s no excuses," he said of the long flight. "It’s part of the league. We still had an opportunity to win this game. It’s not about flights or the schedule.
"We cut it to 104-100, and they hit three big threes. Covington his one, and McLemore hit two. You’ve got to give them credit . . . They hit threes in the third quarter and they hit threes in the fourth quarter. The timely shots they made were backbreakers."
Durant led the Nets (25-14) with 28 points and 10 rebounds. Kyrie Irving added 22 points, Cam Thomas totaled 21 and Sharpe provided a nice lift with 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks. Rookie Anfernee Simons paced the Trail Blazers (16-24) with 23 points and 11 assists. Covington had 21 points, including 5-for-7 shooting from three-point range, and McLemore added 20, including 5-for-8 three-point shooting.
The Blazers made just 3 of 15 threes in the first half but hit 12 of 23 in the second half to key the turnaround.
Originally, Nash said Durant and James Harden both would be available for the second game of the back-to-back set, but that changed Monday afternoon when the Nets announced that Harden had a hyperextended left knee that would keep him out against the Trail Blazers.
"We’re being overly cautious," Nash said of the reason for resting Harden. "It’s a heavy stretch of games, and we expect him to play Wednesday [in Chicago]."
Nash previously said everyone on the roster would make the trip, but he amended that to omit LaMarcus Aldridge, who remained behind with right foot soreness and was not expected to join the Nets in Chicago.
If anything, the Blazers were even more shorthanded than the Nets. They were missing four starters, including Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who were injured, and Larry Nance Jr. and Norman Powell, who were in health and safety protocols.
Irving rejoined the lineup after missing the previous two at home, where he is not eligible because he has not complied with the New York City vaccine mandate. He suffered a twisted left ankle in a collision with Nassir Little in the second half but was able to remain in the game.
"It’s all good," Irving said. "I’ll be available for Chicago."