After dropping consecutive games to the Milwaukee Bucks, the Brooklyn Nets are reexamining a theme that has been recurring this season: making up for a lack of the continuity that many of their Eastern Conference counterparts have going for them.
The Nets fell to the Bucks 124-118 despite 32 points from Kevin Durant and 38 from Kyrie Irving. The loss brought into focus the Bucks core’s familiarity that has been built through several deep playoff runs.
“That is a huge factor,” Durant said afterward. “Continuity is a big thing in this league.”
The Nets’ injury misfortune has stifled connectivity within a team that already had ground to make up with several new players to integrate. The Nets’ Big Three of Durant, Irving and James Harden have played just seven games together. When they have just Irving and Durant out on the floor and no Harden, as they do now, the Nets are 7-8.
The Bucks, meanwhile, are hitting their stride and have won six out of their past eight games. Giannis Antetokounmpo, who had 36 points on Tuesday night, has found a rhythm from the 3-point line. He had four 3-pointers in back-to-back games, both against the Nets, for the first time in his career, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
Khris Middleton, who has been playing alongside Antetokounmpo for eight seasons, had 23 points on Tuesday, shooting 4-for-4 from 3-point range.
“We’ve got a gap to make up here,” Nets coach Steve Nash said. “We understand that’s a team that’s been running the same offense, been playing together, same schemes on defense for years now. Gone deep into the playoffs, and that’s something we don’t have, so how can we make up that gap? That’s kind of our life in a nutshell heading home here.”
The Nets are working to build quick chemistry while also jockeying for playoff seeding. Brooklyn’s loss to Milwaukee puts the Philadelphia 76ers in the driver’s seat to take the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Philadelphia, which also lost consecutive games to the Bucks in late April, is now two games up in the loss column on Brooklyn. The Sixers, who also hold the tiebreaker with the Nets, have the easiest remaining schedule in the NBA, according to BPI.
The Nets’ loss to the Bucks also all but assures that Brooklyn and Milwaukee will finish in the second and third spots in the East, though the order they finish in is to be determined. The Nets are one game up in the loss column, but Milwaukee holds the tiebreaker thanks to these two victories.
Durant said that he believes one advantage the Nets have is their veteran presence. While they haven’t played all that many games together, Brooklyn’s players boast 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 made Finals runs in Cleveland. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan both made playoff runs with the Lob City Clippers.
“We got veterans on this team that played in different situations that know pretty much every terminology that goes on in this league and every kind of set that we run on both sides,” Durant said. “That’s in our advantage as well, having that veteran leadership, but we still are a connected group.”
Durant said that because of that experience, he feels like the team has “been together for years,” even though it has been only one season. Durant added: “We gotta continue to keep building on that.”
Nash summed up the Nets’ remaining regular-season goals as trying to get back to full health and trying to “overcome a lack of common experiences.”
“That is our challenge as much as anything,” Nash said. “While we do that, can we be more physical? Can we be more connected? Can we handle and control some of the controllables that can help us hang in some of these games and win some of these games while we’re trying to put the pieces together?”