The Brooklyn Nets are on a season-high four-game losing streak.
Falling short in a highly entertaining 113-109 decision to the Dallas Mavericks, it was the latest in a recent string of tight losses against playoff squads.
In the grand scheme of things the Nets are unlikely to be phased, but in the immediate future it does potentially make their postseason path a little more trecherous.
Now holding a 43-24 record, the Nets are tied in the loss column with the Milwaukee Bucks, and will drop to third if the Milwaukee take care of the 16-50 Houston Rockets on their home floor. While the Nets first-round opponent is unlikely to strike fear into Steve Nash's squad, it could hand Milwaukee home court advantage in the second round, with Fiserv Forum the scene of two losses in the last week.
The run home
|Brooklyn Nets||Milwaukee Bucks|
|at Denver (44-22)||vs. Houston (16-50)|
|at Chicago (27-39)||at San Antonio (31-34)|
|vs. San Antonio (31-34)||vs. Orlando (21-45)|
|vs. Chicago (27-39)||at Indiana (31-35)|
|vs. Cleveland (21-45)||vs. Miami (35-31)|
|at Chicago (27-39)|
It would be fair to say that neither team has a particularly fearsome run home, meaning the fate of each team is like to be in their own hands.
"This is not a time to panic. We've made the playoffs. We're getting healthy at the right time," head coach Steve Nash said after the loss to Dallas. "We're still trying to get to know each other and build that continuity. We won't let this take the wind out of our sails."
Given that James Harden is still sidelined with a hamstring issue, the Nets have every right to feel good about pushing high quality opponents to the brink without an MVP in the lineup. Trouble is, time is running out to get the 31-year-old back on the court with just five games remaining before the postseason.
Earlier today, Harden told reporters he is "very confident" he will be back before the postseason, an update that came just four days after it was reported he was "ways away" from a return.
"The most important thing for us heading into the postseason is health," Harden said. "One of the things a lot of teams don't have is talent.....skill-wise, we're elite. I'm not worried at all"
Confidence is clearly not lacking within the Nets locker room, and it may well be justified, with Brooklyn holding an imposing 27-7 record with Harden in the lineup.
What we have learned over the last week is that unlike the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, the Nets might not be able to get away with missing their third star, with the lack of defence proving problematic.
In the last three games against Milwaukee (x2) and Dallas, the combination of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving averaged 65.6 points per game, while the team poured on 113.6 per outing. On the flip side, the opposition ran up 118 per game, which is consistent with season averages.
Brooklyn currently rank 23rd in the league for defensive efficiency, giving up 113.2 points per 100 possessions, while also ranking 17th for opposition points in the paint and 16th for opposition fast break points.
Defence wins championships?
|TEAM (YEAR CHAMPION)||DRTG (LEAGUE RANK)|
|Los Angeles Lakers (2020)||106.1 (3rd)|
|Toronto Raptors (2019)||106.8 (5th)|
|Golden State Warriors (2018)||106.8 (11th)|
|Golden State Warriors (2017)||103.4 (2nd)|
|Cleveland Cavaliers (2016)||103.9 (10th)|
|Golden State Warriors (2015)||100.4 (1st)|
|San Antonio Spurs (2014)||101.4 (4th)|
|Miami Heat (2013)||103.2 (9th)|
|Miami Heat (2012)||99.2 (4th)|
|Dallas Mavericks (2011)||104.1 (8th)|
Defending has never been harder in the NBA, but it's clear when looking at the last ten champions that the Nets do not fit the bill of your typical title winning team. Offensively, the trio of Durant, Harden and Irving are arguably the greatest collection of talent we have ever seen, though, they have only managed to be on the floor together in seven games through a variety of ailments.
"You've seen it. defense wins championships," Irving said postgame. "Defense is where we need to make our mark. That's the only way you are going to win that gold ball, the Larry O'Brien. You got to think the game, play defense, and overmatch physicality."
While Irving's comments largely ring true, it feels invevitable that Brooklyn's path to a ring hinges on irresistable shot making and an avalanche of baskets. Given the recent injury history of Durant and the recent run of bad luck for Harden it certainly gives reason for concern.
Not panic, but concern.
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