Nets center LaMarcus Aldridge, left, is defended by Wizards center...

Nets center LaMarcus Aldridge, left, is defended by Wizards center Montrezl Harrell during the first half of an NBA game Wednesday in Washington. Credit: AP/Evan Vucci

WASHINGTON – Once regarded as the favorite to win the NBA title, life has become a struggle for the Nets without injured MVP candidate Kevin Durant. Veteran LaMarcus Aldridge stepped into the breach to score the final six Nets points in a 119-118 victory over the Wizards Wednesday night at Capital One Arena, but they escaped only when two last-second shots by the home team missed.

Late in the game, Aldridge said he was calling for the ball from Kyrie Irving.

"Little bit of Ky looking for me and a little bit of me asking for it finally," Aldridge said. "No disrespect, I felt like I had a smaller guy on me, I was trying to get a look down there and it ended up working out for us. So when I was in the block I felt like I could score and I was asking for it."

The Nets led by 16 in the third period, but the Wizards cut that deficit to 104-103 at the 6:39 mark after a 14-2 run that included six points from Deni Avidja. The Nets regained an eight-point lead only to let it slide to 113-111 on a basket by Montrezl Harrell with 3:19 to go. When Kyle Kuzma hit a corner three with 36.2 seconds left, the Nets’ lead was down to 119-118.

Irving and James Harden both failed to convert at the offensive end to give the Wizards one more chance. But three-pointers by Kuzma and former Net Spencer Dinwiddie missed just before the buzzer.

"You’re happy when they bounce off the rim, but you’re holding your breath when they’re up in the air," Nets coach Steve Nash said of the clean looks the Wizards had at the end. "It was a scrambling, sloppy finish to a game and we found a way. We made just enough plays…Offensively we were great in the first half and that carried us, but we still gave up 62 points, which were too many. The game kind of was getting away from us a little bit and we just made enough plays defensively in a game that was getting wilder and wilder as it ticked down"

Irving had his finest outing of the five games he has played in his return to action, leading the Nets (28-16) with 30 points and shooting 13-for-23. Aldridge totaled 27 points, shooting 11-for-15, and Harden added 18 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. The Wizards (23-22) were led by 23 points from Bradley Beal and Kuzma had 16.

Considering the Nets know they must survive for at least a month without injured Durant, it seemed vital for them to make the most of their current stretch in which they play nine of 11 games on the road, where they have the services of Irving, who is not eligible for games in New York and Toronto because he has not complied with the vaccine mandates in those cities.

He welcomed the pressure, scoring 22 first-half points as the Nets built a 74-62 halftime lead that marked the most points they have scored in any half this season. At the break, the Nets were shooting an incredible 63% from the field (29-of-46).

"I like the pressure," Irving said. "I love pressure. I think it brings out the best in me personally and then also I’m able to carry that energy with the team, whether it be communicating with guys, short conversations on the floor or of the floor.

"This isn’t going to be perfect, it’s not going to ever look perfect. This is just what we have, and we can’t replace anybody that’s out. But what we can do is fill up the stat sheet with the little things that may show up and with things that may not show up and we’ll see where we are at the end of the game when we leave it all out there and play hard."


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