When the Nets final performed the San Antonio Spurs on Jan. 2, they had been minus-1000 favorites who received by 36, coasting for one in every of their best victories of the yr.
This time round, victory isn’t almost as sure — and with Kyrie Irving downgraded to questionable with proper calf soreness, a loss might ship this crew right into a deja vu-like free fall mirroring final season’s implosion after Kevin Durant’s damage.
Durant or not, the Spurs are actually a must-win, solely to protect the morale of a Nets crew staring one other dropping streak within the face in the event that they’re unable to safe a victory in opposition to the Gregg Popovich-coached crew. With the loss to Oklahoma City, the Nets gave away one in every of few treasured video games in opposition to an opponent not anticipated to be a severe playoff contender.
The Spurs are their remaining such recreation till Jan. 26 in opposition to the Detroit Pistons, and after the Feb. 4 matchup in opposition to the Washington Wizards, it’s all playoff groups till March 5 in opposition to the Charlotte Hornets.
That’s 18 opponents with playoff aspirations — to simply three which might be anticipated to be within the NBA Draft Lottery (or 17 playoff contenders and 4 lottery-bound opponents relying on the place 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,” mentioned Irving, who has tallied simply 39 factors on 16-of-44 capturing within the two video games Durant has missed with the MCL sprain. “I don’t’ suppose we’re going to wrestle with out Kevin now. That’s not my perception. I do know guys within the locker room don’t consider that. This isn’t final yr in any respect.
“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 at the back of their minds that their as soon as league-best 12-game successful streak was a product of enjoying lower-caliber groups. Reserve sharpshooter Seth Curry mentioned “the schedule is always going to come back around.”
Now, it’s staring them within the face.
After Tuesday’s matchup in opposition to the Spurs, Brooklyn’s subsequent 4 opponents — Phoenix, Utah, Golden State and Philadelphia — had a mixed above-500 file of 93-86 coming into the night time. Three of these groups are championship contenders, whereas the Jazz had an sudden, scorching begin however have cooled off in latest weeks.
The Nets then play Detroit (12-35) — a crew more durable to beat than its file would point out — host a cross-bridge rivalry recreation in opposition to the surging Knicks (25-20) and host LeBron James’ Los Angeles Lakers (20-24) proper 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 precisely a month as a consequence of his knee damage, he can be set to return Feb. 9 in opposition to Chicago.
And if he sits longer — like after the Feb. 19 NBA All-Star break — Durant’s return might come Feb. 24, additionally in opposition to Chicago.
The final time Durant missed prolonged time, he returned to a crew in shambles, a bunch that didn’t have the continuity to maintain his absence. That lack of chemistry value them within the playoffs when the Boston Celtics swept them off the Barclays Center flooring.
The Nets have a deeper roster than they did when Durant when down final season, however that depth couldn’t save them from an ice-cold Irving capturing night time that value the crew one in every of few “gimme” video games in opposition to 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 mentioned after the Thunder loss. “That is tougher, mentally and bodily, as a result of Kevin does prevent at occasions and provide you with a bucket and so now your protection is ready.
“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 in opposition to the Spurs is a must-win, whether or not or not Irving (proper calf soreness) performs.
The morale of a bunch that should preserve it collectively till Durant returns is at stake, and the crew’s incapability to win video games whereas he was damage final season was one of many causes he requested a commerce final summer time.