First, it was Anthony Davis. On Tuesday night time, it was Domantas Sabonis.
Both are imposing large males who used their power to make the most of a slender Nets protection. Both have been accountable for dealing the Nets a pair of debilitating losses that — after 4 wins in 5 video games — have despatched the Nets again to sq. one.
The very protection that ranked No. 1 for the primary 5 video games beneath head coach Jacque Vaughn has regressed to the imply in Brooklyn’s final two. After holding 5 straight opponents beneath 100 factors, the Nets gave up 153 to the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday.
It’s essentially the most factors they’ve ever given up in 4 quarters in franchise historical past, solely outdone by the 163 factors the Nets as soon as allowed in a double-overtime affair.
And it was a loss that spoiled what seemed like a breakout sport for Ben Simmons, who performed with extra pop in his step than he’s proven in a Nets jersey this season.
Simmons completed on the rim in transition twice and completed a one-handed alley-oop for 11 factors, his first double-digit scoring sport of the season.
His minutes, nevertheless, have been largely impactless. The Nets proceed to appear to be three completely different renditions of the identical staff, none of which know methods to play with each other.
They are one staff when Kevin Durant is within the flooring, one other in any lineup Simmons is on the ground, and one other, extra deadly model when Durant is on the ground with Kyrie Irving.
We nonetheless don’t know what this staff really appears like when Durant, Irving and Simmons share the ground collectively. We nonetheless don’t know if Simmons and beginning middle Nic Claxton can play impactful minutes collectively given neither of them gives the required spacing for Durant or Irving to flourish on the courtroom.
That, nevertheless, with the roster as presently constructed, is probably going nearly as good because it’s going to get in Brooklyn, and it’s a obtrusive reminder that there’s no quantity of effort or depth, X’s and O’s or sport planning that may compensate for a staff’s shortcomings as a roster.
The Nets are going to wrestle towards facilities like Sabonis — who was a plus-44 in 28 minutes — and Davis, who had 37 factors and 18 rebounds as a result of they don’t have the personnel.
Only famous person play can propel a staff past its means, and the Nets proceed to overlook one — and a half — whereas the remainder falls on Durant’s shoulders.
This is why all roads in Brooklyn proceed to steer again to Irving, the famous person guard who has served now seven video games of his “minimum five-game suspension” for “failure to disavow antisemitism” after posting the hyperlink to a controversial movie on his social media feeds.
He can do issues with the basketball that few within the league’s historical past have proven. He can get a basket when the offense breaks down. He can rating in bunches and with the sport on the road. He is averaging 27 factors, 5 assists and 5 rebounds per sport and hadn’t performed notably effectively earlier than the staff handed down his suspension.
The Nets may have used Irving when the Kings broke the sport vast open on a 29-4 run within the second quarter. Durant stated it wasn’t about vitality or effort, that the Kings have been simply the higher staff and made contested pictures that deflated the Nets’ protection.
Many of these pictures, nevertheless, weren’t over a hand. The Kings walked into open jumpers all night time lengthy.
When a superb protection wears down, because it’s executed in Brooklyn for the reason that win over the Clippers, it’s the offense that picks up the slack. But it’s how this Nets staff has been constructed that makes Irving much more essential.
After Durant, who prolonged his streak to 14 consecutive season-opening video games scoring 25 or extra factors, it’s slim pickings on offense. Wild playing cards. Players able to going off for 25 factors however who often are snug going for about 10.
Case in level: While Durant scored 27 factors on 8-of-15 taking pictures from the sphere, solely Edmond Sumner added 18 extra, with no different Nets scoring greater than 12. Seth Curry, who had scored 22 and 23 in his two earlier video games, solely scored 9. Joe Harris shot one-of-seven and Royce O’Neale shot one-of-four.
At this price, Sumner has grow to be the Nets’ second scoring choice and he has by no means averaged greater than 9 factors in a season, plus he’s coming off a yearlong rehab from a ruptured Achilles. A regression to the imply for Sumner is as doubtless because the regression to the imply has been for the Nets protection.
On the opposite aspect of the ground, reserve Kings guard Terrence Davis scored 31 factors and 5 different Kings gamers scored no less than 14. Sabonis completed with 17 factors, seven rebounds and 7 assists, however his impression decided the ball sport.
And the size of Irving’s suspension will proceed to dictate the Nets’ success this season. It is evident, regardless that Simmons has improved, that his play isn’t but passable. He performed his finest sport all season in 20 minutes towards the Kings and the Nets have been solely outscored by three in these minutes.
Yet Durant wasn’t impressed by the athleticism or the playmaking Simmons displayed.
“It’s stuff that we expect out of him,” Durant stated. “Nothing shocking.
“If he’s out there and he’s playing, I assume that he’s physically fine. He made some good drives tonight, but that’s what we expect out of him.”
Patience seems to be working skinny with Simmons. The Athletic reported frustration with Simmons, together with his lack of availability, with some reportedly contained in the Nets group now questioning Simmons’ ardour for the sport.
All the whereas, Irving continues to be suspended with no clear return date set in stone, with a staff proprietor now at odds with the participant’s union after telling a reporter Irving “still has work to do” to get again onto the courtroom in Brooklyn.
The clock continues to tick and two extra losses have piled up, with the Nets probably staring a 3rd within the face towards a Portland Trail Blazers staff that’s gained 5 of its final seven video games.
There are two questions left to reply that might dictate Brooklyn’s destiny: How lengthy till the group decides to elevate Irving’s suspension, and simply how a lot endurance does this staff have for Simmons to reclaim the All-Star impression he as soon as had?