The Brooklyn Nets entered the 2021-22 season as the favourites to win the NBA championship, but things haven't exactly gotten off to a flying start.
After five games the Nets sit at a 2-3 record, going down to fellow Eastern Conference contenders, the Miami Heat 103-96 on Wednesday.
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Following the loss, Kevin Durant, who went for 25 points and 11 rebounds, conceded Kyrie Irving's absence due to his stance on the COVID-19 vaccination has definitely been felt on the court.
"Yeah, we do miss Kyrie. We do," Durant said.
"He's a part of our team but for the most part we've been generating great shots, we've been getting into the paint. It's just a matter of us knocking them down. I think it will come."
After being asked about the difference between the teams offense last season as compared this season, Kevin Durant jokingly says "Yeah, we do miss Kyrie"- Nets Videos (@SNYNets) October 28, 2021
He adds "It's just a matter of us knocking them down, I think it'll come" pic.twitter.com/UhLFbBSlCG
Last season, the Nets held a 12-6 record without Kyrie Irving in the lineup, boasting an offensive rating of 116.6, but that number has plummeted to 100.6 this season, putting the Nets offence at 28th in the league, per NBA Stats, ahead of only the New Orleans Pelicans and Detroit Pistons.
Although free agent signing Patty Mills has been a shining light to start the season, with two 20+ point performances off the bench, a player of Irving's calibre is of course going to take some getting used to. The seven-time All-Star is coming off one of the best seasons in his career, where he averaged 26.9 points, 6.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds on ridiculously efficient shooting, where he became the ninth player to join the 50-40-90 club.
Compounding the Nets' struggles has been the slow start from James Harden, who is averaging just 16.6 points, 8.0 assists and 7.0 rebounds per game, shooting just 35.9 percent from the field and 33.3. percent from the 3-point line - way down on his numbers from last season where he put up 24.6 points a game. Harden is attempting just 3.0 free throws a game, compared to his career average of 8.7, seemingly the worst affected player by the NBA's rule changes on players drawing fouls.
On top of that, Harden admitted he is still recovering from the hamstring injury that bothered him during the end of the regular season and 2021 playoffs.
"Of course. In my career I've been blessed to not have any surgeries or whatnot, so that whole process last year was just frustrating and draining," Harden said.
"I love to hoop, if it wasn't for the money I'd still be hooping. So it was frustrating last year and draining for me to know that I couldn't be myself and be out there on the floor and be the player that I am. But I'm slowly getting back to it. It takes a lot of hard work and dedication. You gotta keep fighting for it and I will."
It's still way too early to read too much into the Nets' misfortunes but with Irving's unavailability likely to drag on through the season in accordance with New York City's vaccine mandate, it might be something the Nets have to get used to.
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