The Nets began the second half of their season when they met the Pelicans Saturday night at the Barclays Center. So far, it has actually been a strange season.
They entered the New Orleans match with an NBA-best 15-4 national record, but their 11-11 home record was only number 20 and is still an annoying puzzle.
Coach Steve Nash struggled when asked to define the Nets’ problems at home. “It’s weird,” Nash said. “I could not answer. But I know we are not the only team. I think it goes a bit around the league, where especially good teams have less impressive records at home than away. I do not really know what. it is.”
There was some truth in Nash’s statement. Through Thursday’s games, the 76ers (23-17) had an 8-9 home record, the Cavaliers (24-18) were 11-9 at home, the Raptors (20-18) were 12-11, the Hawks (17-23) which was a playoff teams last season, had 8-10, the Timberwolves (20-22) were 11-10, the Mavericks (22-19) were 11-8, the Lakers (21-21) were 14-11 and the Clippers (21-22) was 14-12.
Nash pointed to the Nets’ latest tough stretch of four games in five days, including a coast-to-coast, back-to-back trip as one cause of the problem at home. He also cited the COVID outbreak, which ultimately sent 13 members of the Nets into health and safety protocols just before Christmas.
“When we all got back from COVID, I would have said we had a great season,” Nash said. “People thought we were going to be a bottom-five or 10 team defensive that went into [season]. For most of this year we have been in the top 10. We have found a way to win a lot of matches with 10 new guys, no Kyrie and now with Kyrie left. ”
Nash referred to the fact that Kyrie Irving was banned by the organization from playing any matches because he did not comply with New York City’s vaccine mandate and cannot play home games. They did not want a part-time player, but the Nets reversed that decision on December 17, and Irving has played three road games since then.
Whether he gets vaccinated and qualifies for home games, the goal is to get Irving to play as many games as possible with Kevin Durant and James Harden, who play all games because they are vaccinated. Still, the Nets were only 26-15 at halftime of the season before facing the Pelicans, and the Nash were asked to evaluate their progress.
Nash said the Nets’ games could have a hidden advantage. “As you go through these difficult periods, you learn more about yourself,” Nash said. “You’re able to tackle things directly, take a deeper look in the mirror and solve some of the problems … I enjoy a bit of some of those harder stretches because I think it shows a team how to climb out. “how to find robustness, how to find solutions. All in all, we’ve had a good year and we just have to find our progress and consistency again now that we’ve been through that COVID interruption.”
Still, the Nets are best when Irving is on the field with Durant and Harden, who have expressed hope that Irving will become a full-time player. After the Nets’ major road victory over the Bulls, which is still first in the Eastern Conference, Harden was asked if he still hopes Irving becomes a full-time player.
“Man, I want to give him the chance,” Harden joked.
Kyrie in a great place
The Nets scored a season-high 138 points as they beat the Bulls away on Wednesday night. Irving scored only nine points, but that hardly mattered. The attention he joined in the defense opened the floor to everyone else. Durant had 27 points, Harden had 25, and rookie Day’Ron Sharpe had 20. The Nets and Bulls were tied at 71 in the third quarter, and the Nets scored the Bulls 67-41 the rest of the way.
Irving described the transformation that happened in that game, saying, “We had an incredible decision all night. We were in the flow where it gets dangerous for the other team. We hit threes, we get to the edge, touching the paint. It’s going to be hard for teams to fill up and make adjustments on the go when you have me, James and KD out there playing.
“I feel like I’m a great spacer or have the ability to do acting on the go, whether it’s ISO or just screening or doing the little things … It was good to see a lot of teeth on the sidelines, guys were hyped It’s always good for a team’s morale. ”
Irving expressed his excitement about being back with Durant and Harden as the Nets’ “Big 3”. Despite the Nets’ inconsistency in the first half of the season, Irving said they are legitimate title contenders.
“We’ve been feeling this way since day one,” Irving said.
After the Nets’ big win in Chicago, Kevin Durant was optimistic about how well the Nets could play when everyone is healthy. “When we get our whole team back, LaMarcus [Aldridge], Clax [Nic Claxton] and Joe [Harris]”We’re starting to form them, we’re even more,” Durant said. “It’s a good start.”