James Harden Credit: Bill Moore photo

An often used saying is, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” It will be six months before the NBA’s regular season standings are decided, but the start of the season has been interesting. 

Last season’s No. 2 and No. 3 seeds, the Brooklyn Nets and the Milwaukee Bucks, the defending league champions, are currently looking up at the Chicago Bulls, Miami Heat, the Knicks, Wizards, Raptors and Charlotte Hornets in the East. The Philadelphia 76ers, the 2020-’21 top seed in the East, is also in the jumble of teams as they continue to play without All-Star Ben Simmons, who has requested a trade.

The Nets, 4-3 before facing the Atlanta Hawks at the Barclays Center last night (Wednesday), ending a six-game homestand, were the favorites to win the NBA title coming into this season, but have had a slow start. They opened with a road loss to the Bucks and then dropped their home opener to the Charlotte Hornets in Game 3.

Without guard Kyrie Irving, who has been disallowed by the Nets owner Joe Tsai and general manager Sean Marks to play with the team or participate in organized activities as he remains unvaccinated, has left a huge void in the team’s lineup. In the 54 games Irving played last season, he averaged 26.9 points, 6 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 34.9 minutes.

Kevin Durant has carried the team, continuing to make the case he is the best player in basketball. The forward was averaging 27.7 points and 8.9 rebounds, leading the Nets in both heading into the Hawks game. James Harden, who wasn’t playing up to his Hall of Fame level in the first few weeks of the season, is beginning to look like his old self, putting up 18.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 8.6 assists per game before meeting up with Trae Young and the Hawks.

The Nets have to get more offensive output from their bench, which ranked 16th at 34.7 points per game. “We’ve shown some signs of being a really good team,” said Harden after Sunday’s 117-91 blowout of the Detroit Pistons, a win impacted by his triple-double of 8 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists. It’s his 13th with the Nets since being traded to them by the Houston Rockets last January, the second most in franchise history to Jason Kidd’s 61.

Harden added that there’s a lot of room for improvement. “We’re nowhere near where we would like to be.”

As Brooklyn tries to get to where they would like to be, they will have to do it on the road for the next 10 days as they begin a six-game trip tomorrow against the Detroit Pistons. The Raptors (Sunday), Bulls (Monday), Orlando Magic (Wednesday), New Orleans Pelicans (Nov. 12) and Oklahoma City Thunder (Nov. 14) are on the schedule before the Nets play their next game at home Nov. 16 against the Golden State Warriors.

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