If there is one thing that Steve Nash has learned during his crazy, unpredictable first year as a head coach, it’s not to get too caught up in the stress of the moment.
Injuries, COVID protocols and personal leaves of absences have meant that Nash’s Nets rarely go with the same starting lineup in consecutive games. Thursday night’s starting five was the 34th different lineup the team has used this season.
Nash never seems to know what a new day is going to bring. Add to that big-time trades and big-time expectations, and it really has been a year like no other.
"I think I’ve been exposed to so many things that coaches aren’t necessarily exposed to in their first four or five months on the job," Nash said before Thursday night’s game. "When it happens in quick succession, you have to find out what your mindset is, how you are going to approach these things.
"Are you going to create a ton of stress and anxiety or are you going to accept and kind of mobilize the troops. Quickly, I learned there’s not a lot of point in overstressing and creating nerves and anxiety. We just keep rolling and I think that has helped our team."
Thursday morning’s potential stressor was the news that Kyrie Irving would not be available because of a groin injury. In place of Irving, Tyler Johnson got his third start of the season.
Kevin Durant was the only member of the Big 3 healthy enough to play Thursday as James Harden has been out with a strained hamstring since April 5. With nine games remaining after last night’s contest, the Big 3 have only been on the court at the same time for seven games.
Landry Shamet believes that all the different lineups could pay off for the Nets in the playoffs, given that they have had to learn to be flexible and produce without their superstars.
"When you don't have Kevin Durant and James Harden in there for a while, and you still want to win a championship, it forces everybody else to take accountability," Shamet said. "So I think fluidity and just being flexible with all the changes and taking everything in stride so far, I think that's been probably our identity."
Shamet credits Nash with keeping everyone together and connected despite the revolving door that has been the team’s starting lineup.
"Being a first-year, first-time head coach, that presents a number of issues. He’s obviously a great player, but it’s a different dynamic when you start coaching and there’s new challenges and probably nuances that he didn’t expect," Shamet said. "He’s handled it all great. Not to mention coming in to a team with this type of expectation and the scope that’s been on us, it couldn’t have been easy. I know it wasn’t easy. Credit to him, but he always preaches on the connectivity and staying together and building that constantly."
The Nets entered Thursday 22 games over .500, one short of the franchise record for games over .500. They also entered it as the No. 1 seed in the East. One thing that Nash will have to do down the line is balance the team’s desire to finish with the No. 1 seed and their desire to have their big guns healthy in the playoffs.
Nash indicated that he likely would not play Durant Friday night against the Trail Blazers because he didn’t like the idea of using him in back-to-backs. If Irving’s hamstring continues to bother him, it would mark the fifth time this season that the Nets will play a game without a single member of the Big 3.