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Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Kevin Durant's Absence Reveals Nets' Flaws and Clarifies the Team's Pecking Order

The Brooklyn Nets--featuring what has prematurely, if not absurdly, been called the greatest offensive trio ever (apparently, current NBA commentators are unaware that Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor, and Jerry West were teammates at at time when they ranked 1-2-3 in career playoff scoring)--lost 122-111 to the Detroit Pistons, the worst team in the Eastern Conference. This is the seventh straight game that the Nets have given up at least 120 points, and that is not what commentators had in mind when they predicted that the Nets would set records.

The Nets are now 0-3 since losing Kevin Durant to the NBA's health and safety protocols, and he will be out of action until at least Friday as the NBA pretends to care more about health and safety than money. The one positive about Durant's absence is that it should put to rest any debate about who is the team's best player or who should be running the offense down the stretch in close games, a debate that made about as much sense as the debate over whether the Miami Heat were LeBron James' team or Dwyane Wade's team. After the Heat figured out that the best player must lead the way--and that James was clearly the team's best player--the Heat won back to back NBA titles

The only chance that the Nets have to win is if they understand that Durant is clearly the team's best player. Maybe a steady diet of losing will help crystalize that understanding for everyone on the team, and for outside observers as well.

Kyrie Irving's track record demonstrates that he is a crafty ballhandler and a good clutch scorer, but he is not well suited to being the top option on a championship contender. James Harden's track record is even more well-documented, and--unlike Irving--he has yet to win a championship in any role. Prior to whining his way out of Houston earlier this season, Harden led the Rockets to a 2-6 record (they also won a game when he was on the roster but did not play). The Rockets are 8-7 since Harden left. The Nets are 7-5 with Harden in the lineup (they also lost one game when he did not play). As usual, the James Harden effect is quite evident on defense, but much less so in the win column.

At least two things have to happen for the Nets to fulfill the championship expectations that exist both inside and outside of the organization: (1) Kevin Durant must be established as the clear number one option, with Harden and Irving playing supporting roles, and (2) the Nets must collectively commit to consistently putting forth effort on defense. 

The Nets will face the Indiana Pacers tomorrow night without Durant, who is slated to return to action for the Nets' trip to Golden State for Durant's reunion with his former team on Saturday night. That will be the first game of a five game road trip that also includes games against the L.A. Lakers, L.A. Clippers, and Phoenix Suns. If the Nets continue to give up more than 120 points per game they could return home as a sub-.500 team; the Detroit loss dropped the Nets to 14-12.

As noted above, it took a little while for the Heat to figure things out, and then they won two championships--but the Heat both understood the correct pecking order and they committed to playing defense. Also, the Heat's trio was more talented than the Nets' trio: LeBron James is better than Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade is better than Kyrie Irving, and Chris Bosh is better than James Harden.

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posted by David Friedman @ 11:44 PM



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