Lately, the Nets have tried playing a game of musical superstars, with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving alternating carrying the offensive load in back-to-backs while James Harden recovers from a hamstring injury.
That strategy and a deep Trail Blazers cast led by Damian Lillard caught up with the Nets as they suffered a 128-109 defeat that snapped their four-game winning streak Friday night at Barclays Center.
A win would have put the Nets 24 games over .500, which would have been a best in their NBA history, but it was not to be. Irving had an excellent game with 28 points and 12-for-26 shooting, but he didn’t get enough help.
"We recognize that the schedule is a part of this season more so than ever, and that’s for all teams, not just us," coach Steve Nash said. "There’s been nights where we’ve probably won games when the other team was in our position.
"It’s not an excuse. We’ve got to find ways to adapt, and that’s been one of our strengths this year. Tonight we didn’t have our best stuff. We couldn’t find a way to do it. Overall, we just weren’t really sharp. That happens, so it’s what we take from it."
The Nets opened the fourth quarter with a 10-5 burst that included a pair of three-pointers by Joe Harris and cut their deficit to 99-91 on a dunk by DeAndre Jordan with 9:18 remaining. But the Trail Blazers hit back with a 13-4 run that pushed their lead to 112-95 with 5:47 left. Portland led by as many as 22 points after that.
The Nets (43-21) had four other double-figures scorers beside Irving, including Jeff Green (16) and Mike James (15). But they allowed the Blazers to shoot 51.6% from the field and outrebound them 50-42.
Lillard had 32 points for the Trail Blazers (35-28), including 8-for-13 shooting from three-point range, to go with nine assists. Jusuf Nurkic added 23 points and 11 rebounds and Norman Powell had 19 points.
Durant sat out the second half of the Nets’ back-to-back set after scoring 42 points in Thursday’s win over the Pacers in Indiana and Irving returned to the lineup after missing the Pacers game.
In the early going, the Nets had no answer for former Knicks star Carmelo Anthony. He came off the bench and scored all 13 of his first-half points in a 25-12 run that began late in the first period to give the Trail Blazers a 43-37 lead.
In the third quarter, Irving scored nine straight Nets points as they cut their deficit to 76-75, but the Trail Blazers responded with an 18-4 surge, including 11 points from Lillard, to take a 15-point lead.
Asked what caused the game to get away, Irving said: "A guy named Dame Lillard and then also some of the other guys that were making some big plays when we were putting two on the ball. They were getting some open looks and making some reads off of us double-teaming. We just weren’t in the right spot tonight a few times, and they made us pay."
Now the Eastern Conference-leading Nets head out on a five-game road trip that starts Sunday with the first of two games in Milwaukee. "With the circumstances this season, to still be the No. 1 seed or still be fluctuating between No. 1 and No. 2 is a blessing with all the injuries happening and surprises coming up," Irving said. "We just want to stay resilient as a group and just get prepared for what’s coming in the next few weeks. That’s the exciting part."