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SportsColumnistsBarbara Barker

Nets won't allow another NBA title to slip through their fingers

Steve Nash of the Nets looks on against

Steve Nash of the Nets looks on against the Bucks in Game 2 of the second round of the 2021 NBA Playoffs at Barclays Center on June 7. Credit: Steven Ryan

There are three big things the Nets need to do before the start of the season to be successful.

They have to all get vaccinated. They have to work out contract extensions for James Harden and Kyrie Irving. And they need to remain really ticked off.

The first two items on this checklist are close to being accomplished, according to general manager Sean Marks. The third? Well, after everything that happened at the end of last season, it should be too.

The Nets should have won the NBA title last year. And they need to be really upset and angry that they didn’t.

The Nets had and still have more talent than Milwaukee, the team that beat them in the second round and then went on to win it all. Brooklyn should have been the team standing there with the O’Brien Trophy at the end of the season. Kevin Durant, not Giannis Antetokounmpo, should have been named the MVP of the NBA Finals.

The Nets have to be really frustrated with the way things ended last year. Despite the fact that the Big 3 rarely played together all season and continued to be injury plagued in the postseason, the Nets came literally a foot away from beating the Bucks in regulation of Game 7 when a Kevin Durant miracle shot was ruled as a two and not a game-winning three.

Months after the painful ending to their season, the Nets still seem to be coming to terms with everything that happened.

"So many little lessons along the way, and then some of it is cloudy," Nets coach Steve Nash said Tuesday when asked to reflect on his rookie year as head coach. "How do you truly analyze what happened at the very end when it was so new.

"We don’t make excuses. We still look at ways that we could have won the series. They [Milwaukee] ended up being NBA champs, and we were very close to beating them regardless of our roster. With a little luck and a little health, maybe we’d be in a different position right now. But we have to try to use that as fuel and learn from it and grow and try to put ourselves in a position to take all those experiences and put us on a better footing this year."

The Nets are built to win now, with eight players age 30 or older, including five who will be 33-plus by the start of the season. Even at this stage in their careers — Durant will be 33 on Sept 29, Harden is 32 and Irving is 29 — the Big 3 are among the most talented three players to play on one team in NBA history.

They also are far more team-oriented than many observers expected. Despite all their injury troubles and the fact they rarely could play together in the regular season, the Big 3 thrived when on the court together. There were no weird petty jealousies. No grousing about who ended up with the ball in their hands at the end of the game. This is a team that wanted to win.

And didn’t.

The Nets need to remember that when they open the season Oct. 19 in Milwaukee. And they need to remember that throughout the season so they can end up with a top seed and put themselves in a good position. They need to remember the pain they all felt to have it end two rounds short of their final goal.

"I think all of us look at last year with disappointment," Nash said. "Like Sean says, we own that we’re out to win a championship. We own that. But it’s a process. We have to win that process to be there at the end."

New York Sports