When the Nets last played the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 2, they were minus-1000 favorites who won by 36, coasting for one of their easiest victories of the year.
This time around, victory isn’t nearly as certain — and with Kyrie Irving downgraded to questionable with right calf soreness, a loss could send this team into a deja vu-like free fall mirroring last season’s implosion after Kevin Durant’s injury.
Durant or not, the Spurs are now a must-win, solely to preserve the morale of a Nets team staring another losing streak in the face if they’re unable to secure a victory against the Gregg Popovich-coached team. With the loss to Oklahoma City, the Nets gave away one of few precious games against an opponent not expected to be a serious playoff contender.
The Spurs are their final such game until Jan. 26 against the Detroit Pistons, and after the Feb. 4 matchup against the Washington Wizards, it’s all playoff teams until March 5 against the Charlotte Hornets.
That’s 18 opponents with playoff aspirations — to just three that are expected to be in the NBA Draft Lottery (or 17 playoff contenders and four lottery-bound opponents depending on where you stand on LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers).
“It was all ‘glory, glory’ last week when we were winning games every game, and now we’re answering questions about potentially struggling,” said Irving, who has tallied just 39 points on 16-of-44 shooting in the two games Durant has missed with the MCL sprain. “I don’t’ think we are going to struggle without Kevin now. That’s not my belief. I know guys in the locker room don’t believe that. This isn’t last year at all.
“So the comparisons have got to stop. I’ll leave it up to (the media) to do that. For us we don’t have any comparison to last year. We just want to control our focus level and how we prepare.”
The Nets knew in the back of their minds that their once league-best 12-game winning streak was a product of playing lower-caliber teams. Reserve sharpshooter Seth Curry said “the schedule is always going to come back around.”
Now, it’s staring them in the face.
After Tuesday’s matchup against the Spurs, Brooklyn’s next four opponents — Phoenix, Utah, Golden State and Philadelphia — had a combined above-500 record of 93-86 entering the night. Three of those teams are championship contenders, while the Jazz had an unexpected, hot start but have cooled off in recent weeks.
The Nets then play Detroit (12-35) — a team tougher to beat than its record would indicate — host a cross-bridge rivalry game against the surging Knicks (25-20) and host LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers (20-24) right after.
And after the Lakers, the Nets face the league-best Celtics in Boston and host the Wizards, Clippers, Suns, Bulls and 76ers to open the month of February.
If Durant misses exactly a month due to his knee injury, he would be set to return Feb. 9 against Chicago.
And if he sits longer — like after the Feb. 19 NBA All-Star break — Durant’s return could come Feb. 24, also against Chicago.
The last time Durant missed extended time, he returned to a team in shambles, a group that didn’t have the continuity to sustain his absence. That lack of chemistry cost them in the playoffs when the Boston Celtics swept them off the Barclays Center floors.
The Nets have a deeper roster than they did when Durant when down last season, but that depth couldn’t save them from an ice-cold Irving shooting night that cost the team one of few “gimme” games against the Thunder on Sunday.
“Fourth quarter again where we don’t come up with enough scoring to complement the stops. So I think that’s the challenge for us as a group to be able to sustain,” head coach Jacque Vaughn said after the Thunder loss. “That is harder, mentally and physically, because Kevin does save you at times and give you a bucket and so now your defense is set.
“That’s the challenge for this group is they have to dig in and have a mental fortitude greater than before. Because every possession does matter and that’s what we talked about yesterday. So that 50-50 ball, that loose ball, that foul for free throws, they do matter.”
Tuesday’s matchup against the Spurs is a must-win, whether or not Irving (right calf soreness) plays.
The morale of a group that needs to keep it together until Durant returns is at stake, and the team’s inability to win games while he was hurt last season was one of the reasons he requested a trade last summer.
Denial of responsibility! Planetconcerns is an automatic aggregator around the global media. All the content are available free on Internet. We have just arranged it in one platform for educational purpose only. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials on our website, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.