In what should be a best-case scenario, the Nets would have eight regular season games left in which Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving could all play together.
That means there are 26 other games, in which they may or may not have a combination of the Big 3 at their disposal, for the rest of the Nets not to waste
They didn’t have any of their three superstars available against the Nuggets on Wednesday, but still exited the game as if they had made good use of it despite coming up short, 124-118.
“I think [Wednesday] was just an example of how we could take those little wins along the way by getting a little better and putting them on the bench before the end of the season,” said veteran Patty Mills after the second half of a back-to-back. back.”But [Wednesday] felt like everyone was involved. Everyone impressed, the guys who were there and playing on both sides of the floor.
“It was money in the bank, I guess.”
Coach Steve Nash played the only nine healthy bodies he had on his roster after Harden was a late scratch with a strained hamstring and joined Durant (sprained MCL) and Irving (local COVID-19 mandates) on the shelf. In addition to Joe Harris (ankle surgery) and Paul Millsap (personal), the Nets were also missing the Day’Ron Sharpe (non-COVID disease) and Nic Claxton (injury treatment) centers.
The result was a hodgepodge of players who may not have known each other too well, but played hard in their second game in as many days. They bolstered their transitional defenses, which had cost them the night before in their loss to the Lakers, and without a go-to scorer to delay offensively, the Nets showed strong ball moves with six players scoring in double digits and 26 assists on 43 field goals.
“You’re just trying to play the right basketball, and I think the flow we had… [Wednesday] was the flow we needed especially when our guys come back because it’s a team sport and because so many guys can be aggressive it’s hard to try to coach certain players and stop if we just react and make the right plays each possession,” said DeAndre’ Bembry, who scored 14 points on 7 of 11 shots. “So it’s more like we get better all year round.”
Despite sensing significant gains in Wednesday’s game, the Nets have now lost three games in a row and are at 2-4 since Durant’s knee injury. They hope to have Harden back for a challenging five-game road trip starting Saturday against the Warriors, with Irving also available for each leg as they try to weather the storm without Durant.
The Nets came in fourth in the tight Eastern Conference standings on Thursday. They won’t have an unrestricted runway to find their game once Durant, Harden and Irving are all back, putting added importance on the games for the time and taking what Mills described as the “little wins” no matter what assorted faction of stars the Nets could have on the field.
“The goal is to take this further,” Nash said. “Win or lose, do we learn more about ourselves, more about each other and refine our details? If we do, if we get bodies back, we’ll be better for it. We will have learned something about ourselves and we will be able to say that this time was not wasted.”