CHICAGO – The Nets lost to Phoenix. They lost to Golden State. They lost to Miami and Memphis.
They were crushed twice by Milwaukee. And they were 0-2 against Chicago heading into Wednesday night’s game at United Center.
The Nets are playing for a championship and they have fantastic players – more big players than any other team in the league – but they have been far from good when it comes to meeting elite teams.
The Nets entered the game against the Bulls with a record of 0-8 against teams occupying the top four spots in the Eastern and Western Conferences. Their two ugliest losses were to the Bucks, where they gave up 127 and 121 points.
Nor beautiful were they 118-95, they suffered November 8 in Chicago. The Nets, who led after three quarters, were scored 42-17 in the final period.
Still, there was legitimate hope of being able to win a victory on Wednesday as it marked their first match against a top team since Kyrie Irving rejoined the Nets for road matches. Irving, who twisted his ankle in a loss to Portland on Monday, was officially noted as questionable on the injury report, though he told reporters in Portland that he should play against the Bulls.
Nets’ unvaccinated superstar guard is not eligible to play in New York and Toronto due to local regulations requiring the vaccine. The network had initially decided not to let him play at all, but reversed their position in December.
Since Irving’s return, the Nets had gone 1-1 in the games he played, winning in Indianapolis and losing a rematch in Portland as they did not have James Harden. Irving scored 22 points in both games and was a plus-16 on the floor in the win over Indianapolis.
These teams are nothing compared to the Bulls, who started Wednesday night at the top of the Eastern Conference with a 2 ½ game lead over second-place Nets.
Nets coach Steve Nash said he is more concerned about how his team plays against elite teams in April and May than he is now.
“You know, I think the guys know that. They want a good win against Chicago because we lost to them twice,” Nash said at the team’s morning shootout. “I do not think we are thinking against how we are against all elite teams.
“We have to get there before the end of the season. That’s our goal. Hopefully when we get some health, we get some continuity, we get a runway and we can place ourselves in that category. So tonight is a fantastic opportunity to play against an elite team, play well, grow, try to win, but most importantly get better. “
Injuries, COVID-19 and health and safety protocols have limited the Nets Big 3 to just 15 games together, dating back to when James Harden joined Irving and Kevin Durant last season. How much better are the Nets when Durant, Harden and Irving are together? They are 12-3, including a 5-1 record in last year’s playoffs. This season, they are 1-0 as Harden sat out the Portland match with a hyperextended knee.
The difference is so marked when Big-3 is together that there have been all sorts of wild theories that have been whistled about how the Nets could somehow get around the current COVID-19 restrictions and get Irving to play at home. Despite some suggestions that the Nets could just pay escalating fines to get Irving to play, the NBA has said players must abide by local rules.
Fortunately for the Nets, they have many road games on the way. After returning home for two games at the Barclays Center, nine of the team’s next 11 are on their way.