As the NBA season has moved into March, it was a difficult month of February for the Nets. They were 3-8 and since returning from the All-Star break last week had dropped three in a row before playing the Knicks last night (Wednesday) at Madison Square Garden. Prior to facing the Knicks, Brooklyn fell to the Milwaukee Bucks 118-104 on Tuesday at the Barclays Center. It was the Bucks’ 15th straight win, a league high this season.
The Nets, 34-27 going into their game against the Knicks, also stumbled out of the No. 5 seed in the East. The Knicks, which were 36-27, moved ahead of them. The Nets were No. 6 as of last night, 1.5 games in front of the 33-29 Miami Heat.
Defeating the Bucks was a tough prospect but the Nets held a 62-52 halftime lead. Things turned fast in the third quarter and they were outscored 39-23 in the period and 66-42 in the game’s final 24 minutes.
“Our approach at the beginning of the game was really good. We gave ourselves a chance at halftime,” said Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn. “We’ve got to be able to sustain it.” They haven’t been able to consistently gain or hold leads since January 8, the day Kevin Durant went down with an isolated MCL sprain in his right knee. The Nets lost their next four and haven’t been the same team that was looking like a championship contender in early January. Kyrie Irving (February 6 to the Dallas Mavericks) and Durant (February 9, Phoenix Suns) were traded and the Nets have yet to find reliable finishers. The Bucks game was another example.
“The third quarter, Giannis [Antetokounmpo] picked up aggressiveness and lived at the rim,” said Nets forward Spencer Dinwiddie about his team’s second half collapse. “Our collective activity level didn’t match his aggressiveness. He turned the tide of the game, took over.”
Nets forward Mikal Bridges, who led the team with 31 points, agreed with Dinwiddie’s viewpoint. “We weren’t in our shifts, not getting back as hard, and then Giannis got going.”
The Nets could receive some relief in their next two games, playing the Charlotte Hornets on Sunday in Brooklyn and the Houston Rockets on the road next Tuesday. As of yesterday, the Hornets were 20-43 and the Rockets had the league’s worst record at 13-48.