With just two games remaining on their regular season schedule, matchups at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn versus the Cleveland Cavaliers tomorrow night and the Indiana Pacers on Sunday afternoon, the Nets’ focus will soon be on the Play-In Tournament and their yet-to-be determined opponent. They were 40-38 and the No. 10 seed in the Eastern Conference before facing the Houston Rockets at home on Tuesday.
The Nets then had a short rest before playing the Knicks last night at Madison Square Garden.
Their season hasn’t been what they expected. The Nets were the betting favorites to win the NBA title to start the season and were 23-10 and leading the East on Dec. 31. But injuries, absences and conflict caused their fall. Kevin Durant suffered an MCL sprain on Jan. 15, a still unvaccinated Kyrie Irving couldn’t play games in New York City until last month due to COVID-19 restrictions, and an unhappy James Harden was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers in February for three-time All-Star Ben Simmons.
Simmons has yet to suit up for the Nets and due to a back injury will miss the Play-In game and perhaps the entire playoffs if the Nets advance.
“I feel like our season was derailed by my injury,” said Nets’ all-star Kevin Durant, speaking retrospectively after Monday’s practice.
“I’m not looking at it like we’re just not a good basketball team. It’s like there wasn’t a lot of continuity with me and Kyrie out of the lineup. That’s just what it is. When we’re all on the floor together, I like what we got.”
On the floor together, the pair combined for 86 points on Saturday night against the Atlanta Hawks on the road. Durant dropped a career high 55 points including a career best eight three-pointers. Irving added 31 in the Nets’ 122-115 loss. The Cavaliers were the 7-seed, the Hawks the 8-seed and the Charlotte Hornets the 9-seed when Tuesday’s NBA schedule began. The 7-10 seeds will all take part in the Play-In battling for the two remaining playoffs spots. The 1-6 seeds at the end of the regular season are guaranteed trips to the postseason.
“Whoever we play, we play. I don’t care who we play,” said Durant. “I don’t care that we’re in the Play-In. Just tip the ball up, see what happens. That’s all you can control. It’s too stressful thinking about trying to dodge a team, just play the game. We’ll see what happens.”
On Tuesday, Irving said the Nets’ current situation of just fighting to make the playoffs is unfamiliar to him. “I’ve never been in a situation like this where late in the season all these games matter,” he reflected.
“Usually you’re just trying to fine-tune your game, work on details, get some rest. But I’ve been playing 40 minutes…I think about my first three years in Cleveland we were not winning as many games towards the end of the season, there still wasn’t as much pressure.”