After losing back-to-back games to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Brooklyn Nets are reexamining a theme that has been recurring this season: making up for the lack of continuity that many of their Eastern Conference counterparts have going for them.
The Nets fell 124-118 to the Bucks despite 32 points from Kevin Durant and 38 from Kyrie Irving. The loss highlighted the familiarity of the Bucks’ core that has been built through several deep playoff runs.
“That’s a huge factor,” Durant said afterward. “Continuity is something very important in this League.”
The bad luck of the Nets’ injuries has stifled connectivity around a team that already had ground to make up with several new players to join. The Nets’ Big Three, Durant, Irving and James Harden, have played just seven games together. When they only have Irving and Durant on the floor and not Harden, like now, the Nets are 7-8.
Meanwhile, the Bucks are on the mend and have won six of their last eight games. Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 36 points Tuesday night, has found a rhythm from the 3-point line. He had four 3-pointers in consecutive games, both against the Nets, for the first time in his career, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
Khris Middleton, who has been playing alongside Antetokounmpo for eight seasons, had 23 points Tuesday, going 4 of 4 from 3-point range.
“We have a gap to fill here,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We understand it’s a team that’s been running the same offense, it’s been playing together, the same schemes on defense for years. It got deep into the playoffs, and that’s something we don’t have, so how can we make up for that gap? ? “
The Nets are working to build quick chemistry as they compete for the playoff seed. Brooklyn’s loss to Milwaukee puts the 76ers in the driver’s seat to take first place in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia, which also lost back-to-back games to the Bucks in late April, is now two games up in the losing column in Brooklyn. The Sixers, who also have the tiebreaker with the Nets, have the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA, according to BPI.
The Nets’ loss to the Bucks also nearly ensures that Brooklyn and Milwaukee will finish second and third in the East, although the order in which they will finish remains to be determined. The Nets are a game up in the loss column, but Milwaukee has the tiebreaker thanks to these two wins.
Durant said he believes one of the advantages the Nets have is their veteran presence. While they haven’t played that many games together, Brooklyn players have individual playoff experience. Durant is a two-time NBA Finals MVP. Irving won a championship in 2016. Jeff Green and Joe Harris were also on teams that reached the Finals in Cleveland. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan have made playoff runs with the Clippers.
“We have veterans on this team who played in different situations who know almost all the terminology that is used in this league and every type of set that we run on both sides,” Durant said. “That is also an advantage for us, to have that veteran leadership, but we are still a connected group.”
Durant said that because of that experience, he feels like the team has “been together for years,” even though it’s only been one season. Durant added: “We have to keep building on that.”
Nash summed up the Nets’ remaining goals of the regular season as trying to regain health and trying to “overcome the lack of common experiences.”
“That is our challenge as much as anything else,” Nash said. “As we do that, can we be more physical? Can we be more connected? Can we handle and control some of the controllers that can help us endure some of these games and win some of these games as we try to put the pieces together?”