The Nets’ 10 games without Kevin Durant have been far from perfect, but Brooklyn has started to find the formula without playing their cornerstone and they’ve managed to weather the storm better than they did last year.
There were a lot of people watching Durant’s MCL sprain in early January and having memories of last season when the year really derailed. The Nets have been in a much better shape this season than they were last, especially with Kyrie Irving being 100% available and the team actually being so familiar with each other that last season wasn’t.
At 4-6 since Durant was injured, the Nets have relied on a few things to keep the ship afloat and keep the team in the top four in the Eastern Conference. A big aspect was the number of shots the Nets made from beyond the arc.
Brooklyn fired 41 three-pointers against the Lakers Monday night, and the high number of shots from downtown has become a bit of the norm for the team since Durant’s injury.
“I think we were able to develop a recipe for how we want to play,” said Nets coach Jacque Vaughn. “I think you see the three balls, so that’s part of who we are. So being able to shoot 40 threes again seems like a pretty good clip to us. With Kevin, our pace, we’re probably 14th in the league, right now we’re eighth or seventh without him. Being able to play faster so we can get shots earlier in the shot clock.
“And then it’s a collective entity at the other end of the floor. It won’t always look pretty. We’ve used Zone before, we played small before. We’ve played big before. At this end of the floor we will find out. We’re hovering around the top 10 in the league, if we can stay there, in that area, we’ll be fine.
What also helped Brooklyn was the comfort everyone had in the way they were asked to play. The Nets bank gained 66 points on Monday and Irving took that as a good sign of where things are.
“I just think our group itself has moved past the stage where we’re uncomfortable with our roles,” Irving said. “And I just ask a few questions every night. As for how it’s going to look, once we got past that stage, I had a feeling we were going to play some good, solid basketball. Just accept reality as it is. (Kevin) not in the lineup, TJ (Warren) is not in the lineup. Guys are in and out, so there will be opportunities for guys who work extremely hard. There is nothing but joy in my eyes when I see them being rewarded for their hard work. That makes my job a lot easier.”
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Irving has been the offensive focal point without Durnat on the ground, and he has made sure to be reinforced in his absence.
And there’s hope Brooklyn won’t be without their superstar for much longer. Durant has expressed a desire to return before the NBA All-Star break. Durant will be reassessed next week, meaning there will be a much clearer picture by then.