With Steve Nash calling the plays, the revamped Brooklyn Nets, who boast a high-octane offense, are built to win right now.
One of the NBA’s most intriguing teams, with the newly formed Big 3 of Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden along with rookie head coach Nash, the Nets are in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Brooklyn defeated the visiting Charlotte Hornets 130-115 on Friday night. Strong 3-point shooting (21-for-41) helped carry the Nets past the Hornets. Joe Harris, the only Net to play in all 56 games this season, sank 6 of 9 from beyond the arc and scored a team-best 26 points. Teammate Landry Shamet canned 6 of 11 in a 20-point effort.
“When we share the ball we’re tough to beat,” Harris told reporters. “We got a lot of catch-and-shoot 3s tonight. When the 3s go in for us, it opens up a lot of other options.”
Durant, Irving deliver solid efforts
Durant had 25 points and 11 assists in the win. Irving added 12 points, six assists, and three steals.
The Nets (38-18) are one game behind the Philadelphia 76ers (39-17) in the Atlantic Division standings. Brooklyn and Philly are also the East’s top two playoff seeds.
Coach Nash’s club won on the same day that veteran big man LaMarcus Alridge announced his retirement due to an irregular heartbeat.
Credit Brooklyn for staying focused when it’s only natural for thoughts to drift about a departing teammate’s health and wellbeing.
As the game progressed, the Nets had ample opportunities to fire away from long range.
Which is exactly what Steve Nash wanted his players to do, e.g. taking what the defense gives them.
“We moved the ball well tonight,” the 2018 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame inductee insisted after the game. “They’re a good defensive team, but they do give up a lot of 3s.”
Steve Nash puts stamp on high-scoring Nets
Just past the midway point this season, Brooklyn is a threat every night to put a lot of points on the board. Consider: the Nets are No. 2 in the league in scoring (118.8 points per game), trailing only the Milwaukee Bucks (119.2). What’s more, the Nets are the league’s best-shooting team (49.4 percent from the field).
A two-time NBA MVP (2004-05, 2005-06) while starring in the Phoenix Suns backcourt, Nash surprised nobody when he implemented elements of former mentor Mike D’Antoni’s rapid-fire offense when he landed the Nets job. And with D’Antoni beside him as a consigliere on the Brooklyn bench, Nash has the longtime coach’s tactics and views available at any time.
The Nets fired Kenny Atkinson near the end of the 2019-20 season. Interim boss Jacque Vaughn coached the final 10 games. The Nets went 35-37 last season and competed in the NBA bubble as the East’s No. 7 playoff seed. In September, Brooklyn hired Nash.
An NBA scout predicted at the time that Nash had a good chance of succeeding from the get-go if he could get his talented cast of players to embrace team-first ball.
“He has been a coach on the floor his whole playing career,” the scout told Latest Basketball News. “If he can manage the egos, especially Kyrie’s, he’ll probably be very good.”
Nash, Nets gearing up for the playoffs
Steve Nash worked as the general manager of Team Canada from 2012-19. Hhe gained valuable experience evaluating players in his former job. The day-to-day grind of the NBA season, though is different than building a national team’s roster for international events, for the present and for the future.
Case in point: The Nets coach dealt with the absence of go-to stars Durant (rest) and Harden (hamstring) in a marquee matchup on Wednesday evening against the Sixers. Philadelphia prevailed 123-117. Brooklyn also rested Blake Griffin. Moreover, the Nets didn’t have Tyler Johnson and Spencer Dinwiddie, both of whom are injured. The Nets trailed by 22 in the fourth quarter and made a spirted comeback before coming up short.
“We feel good about the way we played tonight,” the 47-year-old Nash told reporters.
As a result of the aforementioned absent players from the rotation, Steve Nash drew up his 29th different starting lineup of the season, the New York Post reported.
For him, the big picture — having a healthy and rested team for the playoffs — is more important than any single regular-season game. And the teams entered the game with identical records.
“Health is everything,” Nash commented. “It’d be great to have the No. 1 seed — it means a lot, it’s valuable — but not at the expense of losing players or prolonging our injury situation. So we have to be very careful and make sure our guys get to the finish line as whole as possible. We may not get any games with our whole roster. Nothing is promised tomorrow.”
Brooklyn’s Big 3
Kyrie Irving is 29, James Harden is 32 and Kevin Durant is 32. They form a potent, kinetic catalyst for the team’s offense.
In January, The Nets acquired Harden in a blockbuster trade involving his former employer, the Houston Rockets, and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
It set the stage for a new laboratory experiment: figuring out if there was enough time in a 48-minute NBA game for all three stars to get enough shots.
As of April 9, Sports Illustrated noted that Brooklyn’s new Big 3 “have appeared in only 186 minutes together across seven games in 2021, an existence so fleeting that lineups that don’t even exist anymore still have a comfortable lead in minutes played.”
While the three of them have not been in the lineup together for large stretches, there’s plenty of evidence that the Nets’ Big 3 is a defensive nightmare for opposing coaches.
At the same time, Steve Nash is the envy of other NBA sideline supervisors. He can, after all, draw up countless plays for his superstar trio.
Elite talent at Nash’s disposal
Irving is No. 6 in the NBA in scoring (27.9 ppg) and is handing out 6.1 assists in 39 games.
Durant, who also joined the franchise in a shift of power in June 2019, is averaging 28.2 points. Durant has played in only 22 games. He missed 23 in a row with a left hamstring injury before returning on April 7. (He also missed several games due to COVID-19 protocols.)
Harden and Russell Westbrook of the Washington Wizards are tied for the league lead in assists (10.9). The bearded scoring maestro is averaging 25.2 ppg. Harden has played 42 games this season, the first eight for Houston.
Can the Nets make a deep playoff run or win an NBA title with an offense built around their veteran Big 3? That remains to be seen. Shoring up their defense must remain a top priority.
But Steve Nash is attracting attention for elevating the new-look Nets offense in his first season in charge.
It’s been interesting, a work in progress, and a storyline worth following in the weeks and months to come.